Opening Remarks by Under-Secretary of State Sipiläinen at the Responsibility of Religions for Peace –meeting

Opening Remarks by Under-Secretary of State Sipiläinen at the Responsibility of Religions for Peace –meeting

Opening Remarks by Under-Secretary of State Anne Sipiläinen at the Responsibility of Religions for Peace –meeting. Berlin, 19 June 2018.

Photo: Florian Gaertner / photothek

Excellences, Honored guests, Ladies and gentlemen, Dear Friends,

On behalf of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you all to the “Responsibility of Religions for Peace” – meeting here in Berlin. I am pleased to note that so many of you are represented and bring in your valuable expertise. This meeting brings religious leaders and actors from Asia in a joint dialogue to discuss responsibility for peace in practice.

This important meeting is a good example of our close cooperation with Germany’s Federal Foreign Office in a field of religion and mediation. Our approach on these issues is much similar and we look forward that this meeting also strengthens cooperation within the European Union in this field.

Mediation is one of the long-term strategic priorities of the Finnish Foreign policy. In the past years, we have worked especially hard to strengthen the normative and institutional basis for mediation, thus enabling the work of mediators in the field.

Regardless of the type of conflict, inclusive approach to peace-building and mediation is essential for the achievement of good quality results. Sustainable peace requires involvement of a wide range of actors representing different parts of society. Finland will work actively with and continue to support non-governmental actors and civil society, including those that involve religious actors.

When involving religion in mediation processes, it is important to hold on to objectives concerning equality, gender equality and participation of women. Women play a major role in many religious communities and the promotion of peace, but their contributions are often less recognized than those of men. We firmly believe that equal participation of both men and women is a crucial component in any peace process to reach sustainable peace. Also young people have a lot to offer to building peace and resilience in their societies.

Global mediation and preventive diplomacy efforts should be enhanced and be given more focus to. As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres – who yesterday visited in Finland - has outlined, preventing conflicts should actually be a priority rather than fixing the damage caused by them. This calls for a whole new approach to sustaining peace. Mr. Guterres has also shown initiative in appointing a new high-level advisory board on mediation. Finland is very proud that our former president, Mrs. Tarja Halonen, is a member of this new body, which met yesterday in Helsinki.

Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Religion has entered in a new way into our analysis of conflicts. It has been widely recognized that we have paid too little attention to, and spend too little time in analyzing the role of religions in the context of Foreign Policy.

Religion has appeared maybe most in our Foreign Policy discussions in relation to peace and conflicts in general, and in relation to mediation in particular.

As mediation has gained prominence among the Finnish Foreign Policy priorities, the role of religions in this sphere has also received more attention.

It may be right to say that there is a particular niche for Finland exactly in the religious dimensions of mediation and peace work. This is in large part due to the role and rather well-established position of some of our Faith Based Organizations with a longstanding record in peace facilitation. It is more of a fact that the established religions in all their variety provide easily the most extensive networks within civil society.  It can be said that religious actors, including leaders, local networks, and different faith or religion related organizations, are well informed of the needs of the people. This is essential for understanding the context in which mediation takes place, identifying the issues to be focused on, and choosing the right approach.  In addition, as part of local communities, religious actors are usually well aware of what moves and motivates people on a social and spiritual level.

More importantly, the national and local religious actors usually remain within the community once the immediate crisis or conflict has passed can thus build bridges between humanitarian aid and more long-term development co-operation. At their best, they can help a lot in terms of ensuring both local ownership as well as sustainability.

We appreciate very much the fruitful cooperation we have had with religious actors. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge the role of academic support and knowledge.  Experience has proven that solid, timely and relevant research as a basis of informed policy making is as important in the field of mediation and religion as in any other field of public activity. This tripartite cooperation could in our case be referred to as Team Finland on Religion.

When talking about mediation, dialogues are one essential tool. Here inter-religious, and often intra-religious, dialogues may prove indispensable.  Skillful and well-planned use of such dialogue tools should be an integral part of our mediation portfolio also in the long run. They do require tireless learning and cooperation between the practitioners and analysts. Governments that perform as facilitators can build up meaningful alliances with the civil society. The facilitation of dialogues can indeed sometimes be a more sustainable way to find solutions than the peace negotiations themselves.

All religious traditions contain the idea of dialogue as a means for progress: our dialogue with the Divine to make progress in our spiritual journey, and our dialogue with each other to make progress in building peaceful societies. Asian religions provide an immense wealth of teachings on how to engage in such dialogues, stretching back thousands of years. Moreover, Asian societies provide innumerable examples of religious traditions coexisting peacefully, sometimes for centuries. There is a great deal we can learn from these examples.

It is my hope that this meeting will contribute to bringing them to the wider, global attention so that they can make our work for peace more effective. I have already seen that hope fulfilled in the discussions I have had with the other participants, and in the many contacts that you, friends and colleagues from Asia have established with each other and with those of us from other parts of the world.

Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen,

To a casual observer, Finland calling attention to the role of religion, including in mediation, may seem counter-intuitive. The old argument about a secular state resting on a foundation of the invisibility of religion in the public sphere is an easy one.

However, instead of seeing the secular state and religion as incompatible, we should explore areas of commonality, even cooperation. In fact, the Finnish national experience points to the importance of being aware of the role of religion in society. We should have knowledge of the religious traditions that have molded our society even if we are not religious ourselves. Of equal importance is to be educated about other religions, especially those that exist in our own society.   The Finnish approach has been to include non-confessional education on religion in our public schools. Indeed, curricula exist for educating children about 11 religions in the elementary school and a further 8 religions at high school level.

Children also have the opportunity to choose courses in secular ethics instead of the classed devoted to studying religions.  These courses aim at helping children acquire knowledge about ethical and philosophical themes and apply them to their own lives, so that they are able to construct their own identities as ethical human beings and members of the society.

The Finnish experience can also provide good examples of practical inter-faith cooperation from different levels in the society.  As an institutionalized example, The National Forum for Cooperation of Religions in Finland (CORE) brings together three religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Its purpose is to foster peace in the Finnish society in the spirit of strengthening religious freedom and through the promotion of inter-religious dialogue, equality, mutual respect and cooperation. Through its actions, the Forum aims to create an understanding of religions as a positive resource rather than a source of conflict in society. It works to diminish prejudices and fears towards representatives of other cultures or religions.

The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers - the secretariat of which is now led by the Finn Church Aid and that is also partnering in organizing this meeting - is truly a new and innovative approach to get the religious actors more involved in peace mediation facilitation. The Network´s secretariat is located in Helsinki with offices in Bangkok, New York and Washington DC. The Network is bringing into our work the highly appreciated and necessary civil society engagement.

Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen, 

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize the importance of maintaining a positive, active attitude towards ensuring that religious factors and dimensions are recognized and utilized in mediation and conflict-resolution. We should continue our work to develop tailored tools and responses in partnership with the civil society and academia. By joining forces in this way, we can ensure that the immense power of our religious convictions can be directed to support peace that is truly inclusive and sustainable.

Thank you

Speeches held by Ministers and the top leadership of the Ministry.