Report on the 8th General Assembly

Asian Conference Religions for Peace

The 8th General Assembly of the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace was conducted at Songdo Convensia, Incheon, Republic of Korea, 25 – 28 August, 2014. A number of delegates and observers from Australia attended the meeting. ms Di Hirsch, national executive member of Religions for Peace Australia, tenders a report of the Assembly.

Report on the 8th General Assembly
of Asian Conference of Religions for Peace
25 – 28 August 2014
Incheon, Republic of Korea
By Di Hirsh OAM

I recently attended the 8th Assembly of the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace (ACRP) in Incheon, South Korea, as one of 5 delegates from Australia. The delegation, headed by Professor Des Cahill, included two women and two young people. There were 450 present from the 20 member countries. The Assembly was held at the Songdo Convensia in Incheon, which is just outside Seoul and where the international airport is situated. The theme of the Assembly was ‘Unity and Harmony in Asia’.

Womens Pre-Assembly

The Women’s Pre-Assembly, held on Monday 25 August, began with welcome addresses by Dr Lilian Sison, Chair of the ACRP Women’s Committee and Dr Sunggon Kim, ACRP Secretary General. Dr Kim commented that women’s power is rising, their role is increasing. We also heard from Dr William Vendley, Secretary General of Religions for Peace International and Ms Christina Lee from the Focolare Movement. The Plenary speakers addressed the Assembly theme, ‘Unity and Harmony in Asia’, through discussion of Peace Education and Reconciliation (Commission 1), Respect for Human Rights, Dignity and Wellbeing of Person (Commission 2), as well as Sustainable Development and Stewardship of the Environment (Commission 3). Dr Kezevino Aram, Director of Shanti Ashram India, stated that building public opinion in working for peace is key. Speech must be matched with action. Any change that is brought about must contribute to a better quality of life. She told us not to undervalue the richness of knowing each other. One unresolved challenge we are faced with is the significant number of women living in poverty.

Dr Parichart Suwanbubbha, Co-Secretary of Religions for Peace Thailand, stated that dialogue involves listening with a compassioned mind in order to learn, grow, change and cooperate, and not prejudge others. There are three stages of dialogue: the preparation stage; the actual experience; and the reflection stage. She spoke of peace education as a way to advance a culture of peace and reduce violence. She also spoke of the need to recognise one’s human dignity and help children develop positive attitudes to themselves, to their country and to humanity. We must learn to live together, develop critical thinking and decision-making skills, and build peace in the community. It is important to have a positive attitude towards the health of the planet also. Reconciliation is an enduring process of forgiveness, where we must remember and change, and not forget.

Reverend Elga Sarapung, Director of Interfidei in Indonesia, spoke about the situation of women in Papua and their hope for justice, truth, equality and peace. She told us of three types of violence: violence supported and conducted by the state; domestic violence (including the spread of HIV-AIDS); and layered violence in public such as tribal or exploiting natural resources. The government has established a National Women’s Commission for Human Rights with published findings. Victims’ testimonies have been heard and a healing process is in place. Lastly Dr Lilian Sison spoke of her concerns including a lack of adequate childcare, rising unemployment and the need for female participation in the decision-making process. Women tend to leave a lighter footprint and the effect of climate change affects more women than men. A gender perspective is needed. This was a fitting conclusion to the plenary.

The women broke into three working groups which each discussed one of the three sub-themes. I attended Commission 2, ‘Respect for Human Rights, Dignity and Wellbeing of Person’. We looked at three questions:

  • What are women’s issues relating to human rights and human dignity?
  • What critical roles can women play in promoting human rights and human dignity?
  • What commitment can ACRP Women of Faith make to promote Human rights and human dignity?

The group discussed the issue of domestic violence, trafficking, also that women are seen as secondary, in a supporting role. Women must lead the way in breaking down perceptions of gender roles that have been based on cultural upbringing. The role of education is vitally important. We have a responsibility to advocate and endorse human rights as women. As ACRP Women of Faith we need to express our concerns more loudly. There is an institutional problem of a patriarchal hierarchy that needs to be addressed. There is a need to develop an education system to make women aware of these institutional problems, to educate people about human rights. Informal education is also important, such as the maternal influence and leadership.

The ACRP Women’s Committee for the coming 4-year term was elected, with Dr Lilian Sison (Philippines) as Chair, Dr Deepali Bhanot (India) and Di Hirsch (myself) as Co-Chairs, Yukiko Moriwaki (Japan) as Secretary and 7 committee members from Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Nepal, Pakistan and Thailand.

A Statement of Shared Commitment was adopted by the Women’s Meeting, based on the outcomes from the three working groups: “We, the Women of Faith in this Assembly commit ourselves to collaboratively help:

  • Improve women’s capacity to participate in dialogue and processes that support peace education and conflict resolution
  • Promote public awareness and campaign against all forms of discrimination and violence against women and children
  • Further support the development of peace education, including the integration of positive cultural norms, values, attitudes and behaviours, which respect human rights and dignity
  • Promote gender equity in policy decisions including responsibilities for managing, owning or stewarding and accessing resources
  • Advocate a gender sensitive approach for empowering women to compete in land, labour and product markets that enable them to make more meaningful and equitable contributions to sustainable development
  • Foster linkages between disaster risk reduction and climate change adaption from a gender perspective.”

General Assembly

At the Welcoming Dinner we heard welcome speeches from Dr Sunggon Kim, ACRP Secretary General and Prof Dr M Din Syamsuddin, ACRP Moderator and we were also entertained by the Incheon Metropolitan City Dance Theatre. The cultural performances that were put on for us each day and evening were spectacular, with traditional dance, song and instrumentals in magnificent costumes, all of a very high calibre.

The Assembly was opened the next morning with a bell struck 8 times signifying the 8th Assembly, interfaith prayers, an address by Dr Kim, a video briefly showing the history of ACRP from its inception in 1976 and an introduction of the delegates from each of the member countries known as chapters and from countries which were not yet members. Many messages were either read out or shown on video, including from Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, His Holiness Pope Francis, the President of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, the President of the Focolare Movement, the Founder of the Fethullah Gulen Movement and greetings from North Korea Religions for Peace.

We were also addressed by Dr William Vendley, Secretary General of Religions
for Peace International, Dr Mir Nawaz Khan Marwat, Honorary President of ACRP from Pakistan, Rev Nichiko Niwano from Japan, Imam Chen Guangyuan from China and Most Rev Boniface Choi Ki-San from the Republic of Korea. All spoke on the need for peace and an end to conflict, to end the cycle of hatred. We have common central themes in all our religions. Myanmar and Malaysia became new members of ACRP.

On Wednesday each national Chapter reported on their activities since the last Assembly. We heard from Australia, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand. After lunch the Assembly broke into the three working groups as in the Women’s meeting, with an added workshop on ‘Reconciliation and Unity of the Korean Peninsula’. In the group discussing Human Rights and Well-Being there were three speakers from India, Indonesia and Prof Des Cahill from Australia. Each speaker covered the topic in a different way, after which the floor was open to questions and comments.

Outcomes from the working groups were reported back to the Assembly the following morning and from these the Incheon Declaration was drafted and presented. The Declaration calls for “…Asia’s political leaders supported by its religious and other civic leaders to work courageously and proactively for peace across Asia and on the Korean peninsula.” Mass media have a special responsibility not to accelerate hatred and hostility. The Declaration further calls for social cohesion and interreligious harmony in Asia. Special mention was made of the need to protect vulnerable and at-risk groups such as women and children, migrants, refugees and stateless people, especially in regard to child labour, child trafficking and child marriage. Special mention was also made in regard to reconciliation and reunification of the Korean peninsula.

Reports were also presented from Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Cambodia, Iraq and Myanmar. The new members of the Governing Board were presented to the Assembly. The two Australian members are Prof Des Cahill and Dr Sue Ennis. The new Executive Committee was also presented, with Rev Yoshitaka Hatakeyama of Japan the new Secretary General. Prof Des Cahill was elected as one of eight Co-Presidents once again. Two Co-Moderators elected by the Governing Board are Most Ven Ja Seung from the Republic of Korea and Dr Din Syamsuddin from Indonesia.

A youth camp was also held over three days before the Assembly. Two Australians attended: Nivy Balachandran and Tal Meretz. They developed an Action Plan to restore hope and build bridges for peace and understanding across Asia and beyond. Nivy Balachandran was elected to the new ACRP Youth Committee.

Overall it was certainly worthwhile joining the Australian delegation and attending the Assembly of the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace. I made some good connections to women and men active in interfaith work throughout Asia and gained a greater understanding of the work of the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace.

Dr Sue Ennis with Di Hirsch of Australia with three Won Buddhists

Sue Ennis and Di Hirsch of Australia with three Won Buddhists

Indonesian Delegation

Sue Ennis and Di Hirsch of Australia with members of the Indonesian Delegation

The Australian Delegation at the 8th General Assembly, ACRP
L to R Tal Meretz, Des Cahill, Sue Ennis, Di Hirsh and Nivy Balachandran