Response to the Secretary General's Report 2005

By: Bonnie Berry, WFWPI UN Representative

WFWPI Enthusiastically Supports the Secretary General's Plan to Strengthen Partnerships Between UN and Civil Society

A Response to:
In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All
Report of the Secretary General 
Dated March 21, 2005

On behalf of the Women's Federation for World Peace International, I commend Secretary General Kofi Annan for his efforts to focus the UN on the accomplishment of the Millennium Development Goals, to plan to reorganize and reform the UN for the purpose of streamlining and making it more effective in its work of development, and implementation of security and human rights for all, as well as peacekeeping and peace building. The Secretary General has done an excellent job of reaffirming that although the UN is an organization of sovereign states, ultimately those states exist to serve the needs and hopes of the individual citizens within them and the larger world. He has reinforced that the original framers of the UN Charter intended to create an organization to ensure us of a future of peace, where human rights are respected and justice and the rule of law are practiced and maintained. It is clear through this report that the Secretary General fully aims to sharpen the tools at hand, leave behind old tools that no longer function, pick up some new tools and advance on the accomplishment of the Millennium Development Goals. We wish for success, and plan to act as partners in this work. In the response that follows, rather than addressing all points of the report, I will focus on areas where there are meeting points with the aims and activities of Women's Federation for World Peace International.

In recent years, we have seen the Secretary General's belief that collective action between the UN and an active civil society and private sector are needed to meet the Millennium Development Goals. He stressed the importance of partnership between the UN and civil society at numerous junctures through out this report. WFWPI, as an NGO in general consultative status is serious about its partnership with the UN. As an organization we have been actively working to align ourselves with efforts to fulfill the MDGs by hosting forums and panels in conjunction with the DPI/NGO conferences, the CSW and as stand alone events. Our recent panel, Girls Education: A Key to Poverty Eradication, held at the CSW in March 2005 gave practical knowledge and experience on this important topic ranging from the importance of national legislation to support equity in education to grassroots activities that help build awareness and educate the public about the importance of this issue.

Perhaps more importantly, WFWPI volunteers have instigated numerous projects in developing nations, particularly in Africa. Emphasis on establishment of International Service Projects in Africa demonstrates the knowledge and commitment that WFWPI has that Africa has special needs and will need continued support. These projects have included schools, health clinics, HIV/Aids education programs, vocational training and many other economic development projects. WFWP volunteers have come to understand first hand that knowledge and practical skills are the key to sustainable development. Since 1994, we have been involved in empowering those in need, particularly women and young people, by arming them with knowledge and skills. We agree with the Secretary General that "empowered women can be some of the most effective drivers of development". From our experience in the field, we strongly affirm the Secretary General's belief in the importance of Civil Society's role in achieving the Millennium Development Goals and thereby advancing the cause of freedom, security and human rights for all.

One WFWPI project that demonstrates the effectiveness of UN and NGO partnership for a holistic approach to sustainable development is the UNDP, WFWP, and Integrated Family Development Initiatives partnership implemented in Bufumbo Sub-county of Mbale district in Uganda. UNDP awarded a $50,000US grant to assist 400 families ousted from Mt. Elgon Forest Reserve who were living in poor conditions on steep degraded land. The project increased family incomes from $200US a year to $2000 by using modern, intensive intercropping of perennial and seasonal crops and agro forestry methods including coffee and banana trees, beans and groundnuts, other crops of fruit, grasses, bees, firewood. Other skills that were taught include soil and water management, compost making, water harvesting, health and hygiene, family values and ways to avoid HIV/AIDS. This example of integrated sustainable development demonstrates how successful such partnership and integration can be in a relatively short period of time and moderate expense.

We encourage the Secretary General and the Economic and Social Council to strive to utilize existing forums between the UN and civil society to highlight examples of best practices that can be replicated, as well as strengthen avenues in which NGO knowledge and experience can be shared with decision makers and other actors to enhance effective planning and development.

WFWP volunteers have witnessed first hand, the trauma to children that violent conflict brings and have worked to invest care and opportunities for healing for the children they have come in contact with. It is common sense that it would be far better to strengthen systems of prevention and efforts at peace building rather than having to face the aftermath and the devastating affects of violence on the soul and psyche of children especially, but every innocent in the path of violent conflict and other threats to peace and security. We agree with the Secretary General that inflicting violence on innocents and noncombatants is never an acceptable tactic. In addition, we agree that all are interconnected and interdependent and we must commit to creating a world that is free from fear. We also affirm that facing threats will inevitably involve Member States seeking and achieving consensus on a vision of collective security as well as an understanding of the nature of threats faced by the world's citizens. We urge the appropriate UN bodies to clarify what constitutes threats to safety and security and prioritize threats, strengthen monitoring, and take action to prevent their occurrence and spread.

As people, we acknowledge that the circumstances that are a prelude to violent conflict are often complex, deep and long standing. Sometimes deep resentments among cultures, communities or tribes are a reality. Sometimes greed is a factor. In order to overcome barriers and affect prevention in these situations, transformation must occur within the hearts of the actors. This transformation most likely will not be created by rules, laws or treaties. It is something that must come from within the human heart. Rituals can provide a context for such transformation to occur. The Women's Federation for World Peace Intl. has been holding Bridge of Peace Ceremonies since 1994 between women (and some men) of formerly hostile nations, as well as in multi cultural, multiracial contexts. It is an opportunity for individuals from very different backgrounds and circumstances to meet one on one through a ceremony of forgiveness and reconciliation. This simple but beautiful ritual has the power to open hearts and allow those previously alien to one another to embark on a friendship and perhaps a partnership. WFWPI offers this simple Bridge of Peace Ceremony to the larger UN and world community as a tool of social engineering to open doors and hearts between parties who are hostile to one another, whether representatives of Member States, or parties to tensions that could erupt into violent conflict. In order to be more effective at prevention, we believe that the UN and Member States must increase their "arsenal" of tools for effecting prevention. A great starting point to prevention is certainly taking a step toward reconciliation. The Bridge of Peace Ceremony can be an opportunity to create this first step.

On that note, although the Member States have been the traditional building blocks, and representatives participating at the UN, perhaps it is time to consider the fact that through out the world, religious and spiritual leaders have historically played important leadership roles in the lives of the world's people. Loyalty toward, respect and reverence for ones faith leader is often stronger than loyalty and respect of one's political leader or head of state. Perhaps it is time, since the Secretary General is suggesting some reforms and actual changes to the UN Charter, that the Secretary General and the UN bodies consider the very important role that religious leaders and spiritual leaders play in the lives of their believers. As the Secretary General states in his report, there is a moral imperative that unites us and drives us to seek a better world. If anyone in the world could encourage us to rise to the situation and do what is right, rich and poor, north and south, east and west, would it not be the leaders of the religions and spiritual traditions coming together, arriving at consensus and inspiring us as a single voice to create the world of peace envisioned by the framers of the UN Charter?

As the microcosm of the world, would not the UN more fully represent the world community if, along side the General Assembly, there was a body of equal stature composed of representatives from the various religions and spiritual traditions of the world? Such a group could be a fantastic resource of knowledge of the intricacies of cultures and societies, as well as wisdom of human experience striving to fulfill spiritual and religious practice, in enacting problem solving, conflict resolution and fostering a transcendent mentality and determination to find solutions in the face of difficult and persistent problems. Certainly, such a body would be an indispensable presence in the organization of the UN, now facing the reality that threats to security are no longer state to state conflicts, but conflicts within states and other problems and issues such as disease and persistent poverty. This idea may seem far fetched. If so, a less ambitious plan might be to add an advisory council of religious/spiritual leaders to the Secretary General along with the advisory council of scientific experts that the Secretary General suggests in his report.

In conclusion, we admit that as people, we long for a peaceful and safe world where we are one human family. This implies that the fates of all of us are intertwined, that in order for any to be at peace and truly fulfilled, everyone must have access to freedom, security and human rights. We support the Secretary General's efforts to increase transparency, efficiency and effectiveness within the UN system. We encourage the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council to cooperate with the Secretary General in increasing and strengthening partnerships and coordination and sharing of knowledge and experience with and among civil society actors. We sincerely thank the Secretary General for his understanding of the value and importance of the work and knowledge of the nongovernmental organizations and civil society in striving to meet the Millennium Development Goals. Women's Federation for World Peace International determines to continue its efforts worldwide to eradicate poverty, empower women, and foster peace and reconciliation as well as share knowledge and experiences of best practices as a partner with the United Nations.

Submitted April 26, 2005