The Sovereign Order of Malta with Forward Thinking convened a working meeting in Rome 11th April, to examine how to enhance synergies between Faith-Based Organisations and International Humanitarian Principles.

 

The meeting brought together faith leaders from Islam (including Sunni and Shia perspectives) and Christianity to examine the extent to which a framework could be devised to which Faith-Based Organisations could refer.

 

This initiative has developed out of previous engagement of the Sovereign Order of Malta at the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul in 2016, as well as Forward Thinking’s focus on religious literacy and foreign policy. The World Humanitarian Summit initiated by the former United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, took place in response to a dramatic increase in people affected by conflicts and natural disasters worldwide and in an appeal to bring humanitarian actors together to jointly consider options for more sustainable action. In the lead up to the Summit, the Sovereign Order of Malta organized, together with the WHS Secretariat, a Symposium on “Religions together for Humanitarian Action – Reaching out to victims of armed conflicts: the special role of faith-based actors”, held at the UN Headquarters in Geneva in 2015.

 

For many people across the world, religious and spiritual values inform every aspect of their daily lives. Rather than disappearing, the role of religion and religiously inspired political activism appears to be an increasingly important factor in global affairs in the Twenty-First Century.   Faith leaders and communities are often at the forefront of responding to conflict and delivering humanitarian aid in conflict zones worldwide.  Because of their authority and status in society in many parts of the world, they can either have a unique role to play in preventing conflict, peacebuilding, delivering humanitarian aid, and promoting reconciliation between communities, or can contribute to exacerbating challenges.  There may be concern around the role of religious groups in delivering aid and that they misuse such a role to increase their influence or proselytise. Yet, these risks could be outweighed by the potential positive contribution of widespread and effective distribution of aid to those in need.  While they have the potential to alleviate suffering, to date, faith-based organisations and religious leaders have only been partially engaged with by the foreign policy establishment, which historically has had a limited understanding of religion in international affairs and the positive role it can fulfil.  As a result, the role of faith-based organisations and faith leaders are under-utilised in efforts to respond to conflict and alleviate suffering. The capacity for cooperation between faith-based organisations, secular organisations and governments is under-explored and under-resourced.  This weakens the potential response of the international community to alleviate suffering and de-escalate conflict.

 

The meeting focused on how to promote synergies between religious and humanitarian actors and a framework of principles and objectives to which organisations could refer.