THE Archbishop of Canterbury told the UN’s Security Council this week that “the international rule-based order is struggling”, and urged it to move beyond “fragmented” efforts to engage faith-based organisations in reconciliation.
He is the first Archbishop of Canterbury to address the body, invited to do so by the UK’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Karen Pierce.
Addressing a debate on Wednesday on “mediation and its role in conflict prevention”, after the chamber heard an update on attacks in Syria, he warned: “National interests are still often allowed, even in this chamber, to overcome the wisdom that those who had lived through a global war had learned.”
Unless set within a framework of reconciliation, mediation was “like using a garden hose to put out a forest fire, when what you need is rain over the whole area to let new life grow and sustain itself.”
The Church was “intimately present” in areas of conflict — “We cannot and will not walk away from them” — and religious institutions were “often the only functioning institutions in a fragile or pre-conflict situation”. They were able to “provide early warnings for signs of conflict in communities” and could help forge a “people’s peace”, engaging women, the young, and the poor in the process, rather than simply “elites in conferences”.
Even in areas without functioning governments, “the Church and other faith groups, sometimes existing precariously, provide a form of hope and mediation”.
While acknowledging initiatives, including the plan of action for religious leaders produced by the special adviser for the prevention of genocide, he suggested that it was “overdue for the UN to move beyond these still fragmented efforts. Enabling transformative reconciliation must be at the core when we build UN partnerships with faith communities.”
He pledged his support to the Secretary General, drawing attention to members of his staff who had experience of working in conflict resolution, the Women on the Front Line initiative, and the recent Emerging Peacemakers Forum.
Events in Myanmar were a reminder, he said, that “conflict destroys dignity, hope, and all our best dreams.”
Archbishop Welby closed by urging representatives present to make a commitment to “a truly inclusive approach to participation in mediation and reconciliation, now and in future generations”.