The UNGA Conference 2018: Transforming Our World SDGs to Ensure No One is Left Behind was organized by the Journalists and Writers Foundation in collaboration with the Alliance for Shared Values on September 25, 2018 in New York.
The Development Agenda facilitates an intensive global engagement bringing together Governments, the private sector, civil society, and the United Nations system to mobilize all available resources. Without a doubt, civil society participation is one of the most important means of implementation for the SDGs.
As the world leaders came to the United Nations Headquarters in New York to renew their commitment to global peace and security, the UNGA Conference 2018 was organized in partnership with 18 civil society organizations from 13 different countries to raise awareness among the international community on the current agenda of UNGA; facilitate collaboration by creating a platform for the discussion of Public-Private Partnerships; and share best practices and lessons learned to work together to achieve the SDGs.
During the day-long meetings, the UNGA Conference 2018 hosted 19 panelists from 11 different countries. The international participants shared their perspectives on the culture of peace and conflict prevention, human rights and press freedom which were all among the priorities of the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
PANEL SESSION 1: THE CULTURE OF PEACE AND CONFLICT PREVENTION
The UNGA Conference 2018 started with the welcome remarks of Huseyin Hurmali, the President of the Board of Trustees of the Journalists and Writers Foundation. Mr. Hurmali said that the UNGA is one of the most strategic meetings in the timeline of the United Nations as the world leaders come together in New York to discuss the global solutions for the global challenges. Mr. Hurmali highlighted “By creating a broad alliance among the Heads of States, UNGA Delegates and civil society organizations, the UNGA Conference 2018 shares the alternative perspectives towards the implementation of the Global Agenda 2030.”
The Panel Session 1: The Culture of Peace and Conflict Prevention discussed the core values of peace, opportunities that the inter-civilizational and interfaith dialogue creates for the sustainable peace, the role of diversity and cohesive societies, moving from prevention to positive peace, and the role of education for conflict prevention. The moderator of this session was Parvez Mohsin, the Director of Development and Communications at the Nashville International Center for Empowerment.
Dr. Suchart Setthamalinee, the Head of Department of Peace Studies at Payap University from Thailand started the Session 1: The Culture of Peace and Conflict Prevention with his keynote remarks. Dr. Setthamalinee said “For centuries, war and violence have been associated with religion. Even though the religion is not the main cause, the religious doctrine is often used to legitimize violence.” He also added that “We can achieve peace by visiting and learning from other faiths. Dialogue means we are all different; but we are all part of the answer and together we are all part of the solution.”
The first panelist at the session was Dr. Baukje Prins, the Professor of Citizenship and Diversity from Netherlands. In her remarks, Dr. Prins stressed the role of the diversity in today`s globalized world and cohesive societies for the culture of peace. According to Dr. Prins, “We should not only aim to prevent conflicts but also deal with them and regulate them in a peaceful way and for that we need to have a democratic culture beneath democratic governments. To have a democratic culture, we need citizens with democratic virtues, which are assertiveness and tolerance.”
Michelle Breslauer, the Program Director of Institute for Economics and Peace, discussed the breakdowns in peace and indicators of improvements. She analyzed how to move from prevention to positive peace. Ms. Breslauer defined negative peace as the absence of violence or fear of violence and positive peace is the attitudes, institutions, and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies. She indicated that the “High levels of positive peace are associated with: Higher per capita income, resilience, better environmental outcomes, higher GDP growth per annum, and better performance on SDGs.”
Following Ms. Breslauer`s remarks on indicators of improvement, Pishtiwan Jalal from Virginia Tech`s School of Public and International Affairs talked about the role of education in culture of peace and conflict prevention. Mr. Jalal indicated “I see education as “the” pacifying factor. We need to be easing survival, noting that educated people are less vulnerable to extreme ideologies, and cause unity. We need to educate people on both sides on basic moral principles.”
The discussants at this session were Rabbi Dr. Sonja Pilz, the New York Ambassador of House of One, and Tahmina Abdulsabur Payende, the graduate of Afghan-Turk High School in Afghanistan who held the first place in the university entrance exams. Rabbi Pilz presented the House of One as an interfaith best practice to create a harmony in society to facilitate a better understanding of different faiths. She highlighted that cross-cultural education, architecture symbolizing the similarities and shared common spaces are the pillars of this project.
Being the best example of girls’ empowerment through education herself, Tahmina Abdulsabur Payende said “Girls in families are not prioritized as boys are so even when they go to school, they are not encouraged by their parents. In my opinion, the real problem is lack of knowledge and literacy.” Tahmina has also received a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Journalists and Writers Foundation as an appreciation of her strong stance for the promotion of education for the girls in conflict zones. The award was presented by Javier Cremades, the Founder of Cremades & Calvo Sotelo Law Office in Spain, who is an internationally acknowledged human rights defender.
PANEL SESSION 2: POPULATIONS AT RISK
HUMAN RIGHTS, MIGRATION AND REFUGEES
The UNGA President, Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces says “We simply cannot stand by, walk on the other side of the road. Especially not when the situation continues in a way that challenges everything about our values.” In this panel session, experts discussed the human rights of the populations at risk, managing the responses to humanitarian crises across the globe, successful integration and contributions of refugees to their host societies. The panel session was moderated by Clarita Costa Maia, the chairwoman of the International Relations Committee of the Brazilian Bar Association.
The keynote speaker Javier Cremades is the Founder of the Cremades & Calvo-Sotelo Abogados, a prestigious international law firm in Spain. Mr. Cremades has globally excelled in the defense of human rights and civil liberties and has been designated by Forbes Magazine as Lawyer of the Year in Spain and Jurist of the Year by the World Jurist Association. Mr. Cremades discussed the leading and managing responses to humanitarian crises across the globe.
The first panelist of the session Kevin Appleby, the Senior Director of International Migration Policy at Scalabrini, said “Less than 1% of the world’s refugees have been resettled. 5% of the countries worldwide hosts 80-90% of the world’s refugees. There should be the creation of more regulated arrivals and under our program, there is a lot of vetting, security clearances, so it is a good model to meet that responsibility but do it in a way that is secure and is in the best interest of both parties.”
Following Mr. Appleby`s remarks, Dr. Sev Ozdowski, the Director of Equity and Diversity at the Western Sydney University from Australia presented the successful Australian migration policies as a country with plenty of experience with refugees and migrants. Dr. Ozdowski indicated “Australian multiculturalism emerged has developed incrementally over the years as successive national governments have created architecture, policies and programs acknowledging and responding to cultural diversity.”
The last panelist of this session was Angelina Makwetla, the Commissioner of the South African Human Rights Commission. Ms. Makwetla talked about the social Inclusion of migrants and refugees. She indicates “There is nothing that beats implementation! Challenges migrant and refugees encounter the pressure that migrants encounter from the host communities include public intimidation and verbal threats, threats and extortion, intimidation or direct physical violence against their families or properties, displacement to areas of mass shelter.”
The discussants of the session on human rights were Antonia Kuhn, the Youth Delegate of Germany to the UNGA 2018, and Hafsa Girdap, the Director of Women Affairs at the Advocates of Silenced Turkey. Ms. Kuhn said that 15,000 people were involved to welcome and accommodate and supply the refugees in Germany. The Youth Delegate Ms. Kuhn highlighted “The structure of youth engagement was very different from that of elderly people.
We engaged in very diverse ways compared to traditional methods. Mobilization happened mostly through social media. We need to involve youth for sustainable integration.” After Ms. Kuhn`s presentation, Hafsa Girdap has discussed the violation of women rights in Turkey as a case study.
The Photo Exhibition entitled Beyond the Water was also presented at the Conference. Alex Morel, Associate Professor of Photography in the Department of Art & Design at St. John’s University, presented the background of his exhibition explaining the challenges that refugees are facing, whom have been escaping the purge of dictator regimes by crossing the Evros River of the Aegean Sea to reach Greece.
PANEL SESSION 3: PRESS FREEDOM FOR SUSTAINABLE PEACE
At the last session entitled “Press Freedom for Sustainable Peace”, distinguished journalists talked about the media freedom as it is an important indicator of sustainable development,
good governance and inclusive societies. Panelists highlighted that ensuring freedom of opinion and expression is a key to raise awareness on the protection of human rights and democracy. Sophie Mokoena, a prominent journalist and the Foreign News Editor of SABC TV from South Africa, has moderated the discussion.
The afternoon session started with the remarks of Dr. Alp Aslandogan, the Executive Director of the Alliance for Shared Values. Dr. Aslandogan stated that when individuals come together with an open mind to understand each other, there is a magical development taking place at that moment. He shared several highlights from the academic perspective on the importance of inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue. Dr. Aslandogan also indicated that the true knowledge is the experiential knowledge and said that in today`s world majority of the journalists are being forced to face challenges created as a result of the lack of media freedom.
Robert Mahoney, the Deputy-Executive Director of Committee to Protect Journalists, talked about the challenges that journalists face while working in conflict areas. Mahoney indicated that the ” Press freedom is under attack in many countries. We need to help local and freelance journalists to get the protection they need. We cannot do it alone; we want to empower freelance and get the fair wages they need.”
The following panelist was Sudheendra Kulkarni, the Columnist of the Indian Express. Kulkarni indicated that “Freedom of the press ─ be it the mainstream media or the social media ─ must be exercised with an utmost sense of responsibility. Just as sustainable development cannot be thought of without press freedom, press freedom also cannot be thought of without diversity of ideas and viewpoints, to criticism and counter-criticism, to frank, fearless but constructive debate.”
Mohamed Amin El Masry, the Deputy Executive-in-Chief of Al Ahram Newspaper from Egypt, talked about the role of the press to enlighten public opinion and visualize all current developments and facts. El Masry indicated that “The media must be strong and have the correct and accurate information to compete and publish good content.”
Abdulhamit Bilici, the Former Editor-in-Chief of now-closed Zaman Daily, talked about the shrinking space of journalists in Turkey, as the country with the highest number of journalists in jail. He started his remarks by asking “Without the democracy how do people protect themselves?” and talked about this own experience being forced to live in exile as a purged journalist.
The conference ended by the closing remarks of Mehmet Kilic, the President of the Journalists and Writers Foundation. Mr. Kilic thanked all the global partners of the UNGA Conference for their collaboration to make this platform an international arena to discuss the most pressing issues of the development agenda.
The UNGA Conference 2018 had 18 Global Partners coming from 13 different countries: Friede Institute for Dialog from Austria, Australian Intercultural Society and Affinity Intercultural Foundation from Australia, Cultural Center Brazil Turkey from Brazil, Mekong Dialogue Institute from Cambodia, Harmony Institute from Kenya, Platform Ins from Netherlands, Atlantic Institute and Turkish Cultural Center Brooklyn from USA, Kilimanjaro Dialogue Institute from Tanzania, Pacific Dialogue Foundation from Philippines, Hira Magazine and Zaman Arabic Newspaper from Egypt, Turquoise Harmony Institute and Universal Rights Association from South Africa, Arco Forum from Spain, Educational Endowment Trust and Indialogue Foundation from India.