International Secretariat

Prof. Azza Karam

Prof. Azza Karam, Secretary General Elect
Religions for Peace International

Azza Karam is a Professor of Religion and Development at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, in The Netherlands – of which she is a citizen.

She served as a Senior Advisor on Culture, at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); and as Coordinator/Chair of the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Religion and Development; where she coordinated engagement with members of a Global Interfaith Network for Population and Development with over 600 faith-based organizations from all regions of the world, representing all religions and interreligious affiliation. She is the Lead Facilitator for the United Nations’ Strategic Learning Exchanges on Religion, Development and Diplomacy, building on a legacy of serving as a trainer cum facilitator of inter-cultural leadership and management in the Arab region as well as Europe and Central Asia.

Professor Karam has served in different positions in the United Nations since 2004, as well as other intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations since the early 1990s, such as International IDEA, and Religions for Peace. Simultaneously, she lectured in various academic institutions in Europe, in North America (including the United States Military Academy/West Point), Africa and the Middle East.

Her Ph.D. in 1996, focused on Political Islam, and became her first book in Arabic (her mother tongue) and in English. She has since published widely, and in several languages, on international political dynamics, including democratization, human rights, peace and security, gender, religious engagement and sustainable development. She was born in Egypt, and now lives in the United States.

Prof. Karam will assume the office pending finalization of authorization paperwork with United States government authorities. In the interim, Rev. Sugino has been appointed to act as Secretary General by the Religions for Peace World Council.

Rev. Kyoichi Sugino

Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, Acting Secretary General
Religions for Peace International

Rev. Kyoichi Sugino joined RfP International Secretariat in 1999 and was appointed as Deputy Secretary General in 2011 at the International
Executive Committee meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco.  Rev. Sugino assists the Secretary General in the organization’s overall management and governance and coordinates RfP’s affiliated interreligious councils, women and youth networks worldwide.  

Rev. Sugino has been directly engaged in multi-religious diplomacy and track-II negotiations in Iraq, Syria, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and other conflict
zones (“Peace on Earth: An interview with Rev. Kyoichi Sugino” by THE CONSULUS.

As an engaged Buddhist leader, he has worked with senior-most leaders across various streams and co-authored a historic Yogyakarta
Statement on Shared Values and Commitments
Post, “Buddhist, Muslim Leaders Push for Peace in Conflict Areas”)
to overcome violent extremism and advance common action for peace.

Rev. Sugino received his LL.B from Chuo University in Tokyo (1989) and  M.L.I. in International Law and International Human Rights Law from the University of Wisconsin (1993).  Earlier in his career, he served as policy research officer at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva (1996-1998) and published a well-cited article on a historical perspective of the role of humanitarian agencies in complex emergencies (The “Non-Political and Humanitarian” Clause in UNHCR’s Statute. Refugee Survey Quarterly, UNHCR/Oxford University Press, Volume17, no.1 [1998]).

He is an ordained Dharma Teacher in Rissho Kosei-kai–a major Japanese Buddhist denomination–having graduated from Gakurin Buddhist Seminary in Tokyo (1991).

Regional Secretaries General

Dr. Francis Kuria Kagema

Dr. Francis Kuria Kagema, Secretary General
African Council of Religious Leaders – Religions for Peace

Dr. Francis Kuria Kagema is the Secretary General of the African Council of Religious Leaders-RfP and Executive Director of Inter-Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK-RfP), a position he has held since 2008. He previously served as Programs Director and head of the IRCK-RfP secretariat for a period of six years. Before joining the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya-RfP, Dr. Kuria worked as the National Coordinator for the Small Business Network, an organisation advocating for small and medium enterprises. He also worked as a Financial Analyst at the Nairobi Stock Exchange and as a volunteer with St. John Ambulance Brigade where he worked for 16 years, eventually retiring as Assistant Commissioner, Training and Operations in 1998. A holder of a degree in Veterinary Medicine and Surgery, Dr. Kuria is married with four children.

Rev. Nobuhiro Masahiro Nemoto

Rev. Nobuhiro Masahiro Nemoto, Secretary General
Asian Conference of Religions for Peace

In 1977, Nobuhiro Masahiro Nemoto entered the seminary of RKK. Since 1980, he served as a liaison officer at IARF (International Association of Religious Freedom) secretariat at Frankfurt, a program officer at UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) HQs at Geneva, head of RKK Public Relations Section, deputy director of RKK external affairs dept., and minister of RKK Tsuchiura and Kobe dharma centers.

In 2010, Rev. Nemoto was appointed director of RKK external affairs dept. There, he was in charge of inter-religious dialogue, political affairs, human rights, public information and social and peace actions.

In 2015, Rev. Nemoto served as a special advisor for interreligious cooperation, Chairman of Donate a Meal Peace Fund. In 2016, he served as a member of WCRP Japan board, head of the WCRP Japan Task Force for refugee assistance. And in 2017, he served as Secretary General of Asian Conference of Religions for Peace, an executive specialist of the secretariat deptartment of RKK.

Rev. Nemoto has engaged in refugee assistance for Vietnam, Cambodia, Kurd, Somalia, former Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan as well as in the emergency relief activities for Hanshin-Awaji Great Earthquake and East Japan Great Earthquake.

Rev. Nemoto completed a master’s course on “Human Security Studies” at the University of Tokyo. He holds an MA in Human Security Studies and is currently enrolled in doctoral program in Human Security Studies.

Mr. Elias Szczytnicki

Mr. Elias Szczytnicki, Secretary General & Regional Director
Religions for Peace Latin America and the Caribbean

Elias Szczytnicki has extensive and distinguished experience in inter-religious relations.  Since 2004, he has served as Secretary General of the Latin American and Caribbean Council of Religious Leaders (LACCRL) and the Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Regional Office of Religions for Peace.

As LACCRL Secretary General, Mr. Szczytnicki organizes high level meetings of religious leaders with important international personalities, including Pope Francis. He also represents the LACCRL in various meetings of the United Nations and their agencies, the Organization of American States (OAS), the Ibero-American General Secretariat (SEGIB) and the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Mr. Szczytnicki comes to Religions for Peace after serving as Secretary of the Interfaith Committee of Peru.  He also has been a Member of the National Executive Committee of the Consensus-Building Table on Fighting against Poverty of Peru and a Lecturer in Judaism at the Center of Oriental Studies of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP).

Mr. Szczytnicki holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the PUCP.  Also, he is a graduate of the Certificate on Jewish Nonprofit Management at the Latin American Training and Investigation Center for Jewish Institutional Leadership “Leatid”.

Mr. Szczytnicki is an Argentine living in Peru since 1991.  He is married and has one son.

Dr. Mark Owen

Dr. Mark Owen, General Secretary
European Council of Religious Leaders –Religions for Peace

Dr Mark Owen has been Secretary General of the European Council of Religious Leaders since May 2017, and holds a BA in Theology and Religious Studies, MA in World Religions, and PhD in Tibetan Buddhism. Mark has extensive experience of working with interfaith and multi-faith organisations, and an academic and practical background in religious peacebuilding. Dr Owen is Director of the University of Winchester’s Centre of Religion, Reconciliation and Peacebuilding; which was awarded the much coveted 4* for research impact in the UK government’s latest Research Excellent Framework assessment in 2014. Mark has carried out religious peacebuilding research and practice across Europe and South Asia, and is Programme Leader for the MA in Reconciliation & Peacebuilding at the University of Winchester. Mark is currently engaged in research projects looking at the role of religious actors and organisations in peacebuilding processes in Nepal and Myanmar, and multi-faith approaches to migration and integration in Europe. His interests also include Religion and Conflict Analysis, Freedom of Religion or Belief, and Buddhist approaches to Conflict Transformation. Mark is a founder and trustee of the UK registered charity Freedom to Learn, which works to provide the opportunity of education to children from some of the remotest regions of the Himalayas and South Asia.

International Secretariat

Ms. Luisa Hernandez

Ms. Luisa Hernandez, Director of Finance and Administration

Ms. Luisa Hernandez is the Director of Finance and Administration at Religions for Peace. She oversees all the financial and administrative systems. Hired as the Senior Accountant, Mrs. Hernandez acquired the title of Director of Finance and Administration at Religions for Peace in 2006. She is responsible for budget development and monitoring; managing of international and national funds received from multiple non-for-profit and private agencies; and collaboration and coordination with international field-office financial staff to ensure accurate and timely reporting of all financial information. She provides management and control for the International Secretariat’s Human Resources and Administrative policies, and all fiscal operations of Religions for Peace. Mrs. Hernandez has more than ten years of non-for-profit finance and administration experience. She has worked in collaboration with development agencies like USAID, the State Department, C.D.C, HRSA, UNDP, UNICEF, and other international NGOs. She holds an M.B.A. degree in Finance from Regis University, and a B.A. in Accounting from Herbert Lehman College of the City University of New York. She is certified in USAID Rules and Regulations, NICRA, NYS Notary Public and Individual Income Taxes.

Ms. Deepika Singh

Ms. Deepika Singh, Associate Secretary General; Director of Programs

Ms. Deepika Singh is the Associate Secretary General and Director of Programs at Religions for Peace, where she directs overall

Ms. Singh has more than fifteen years of professional experience in international affairs and development, including service in USAID-funded programs in Nepal and consultancies with UNDP, UNICEF, and other international NGOs.

She holds a Master of Public Administration degree from Pace University in New York, USA; a Master of Arts degree from Dhaka University in Dhaka, Bangladesh; and a BA with honors from St. Bede’s College in Simla, India.

Mrs. Michelle Khatana

Mrs. Michelle Khatana, Director of External Relations

Mrs. Michelle Khatana is the Director of External Relations at Religions for Peace. Michelle is charged with fundraising from private individuals and family foundations and oversees Religions for Peace’s International communications department. She serves as liaison between the Secretary General and International Trustees.

Prior to serving at Religions for Peace, Michelle worked in Business Development for real estate investment firms. Michelle oversaw the expansion of the investor base, streamlining communications and increasing corporate visibility. Michelle bridged connections between high-level politicians, developers, and high net worth individuals, contributing to a number of large investments.

Michelle began her career as an artist training at the internationally acclaimed School of American Ballet in New York City and had performances with New York City Ballet, New York Dance Theatre, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and the United Nations.

She serves on the advisory board of Focus for Health and is a board member of Hydration Foundation.

Ms. Natalya Shnipova

Ms. Natalya Shnipova joined the Religions for Peace team as the Accounting Administrative Assistant in 2016. Born and raised in Kazakhstan, Ms. Shnipova earned her BA in Hospitality Management from Saratov State Technical University, Institute of Management in Saratov, Russia. She holds an AS in Business Administration from Borough of Manhattan Community College and completed a second bachelor’s degree in Finance and Investments at Baruch College of the City University of New York.

Mr. Christopher Zefting

Mr. Christopher Zefting, Program Officer, Network Development and Coordination

Mr. Christopher D. Zefting serves as Program Officer for Network Development and Coordination at Religions for Peace and holds a Master of Theological Studies degree from Harvard University with a concentration in Religion and the Social Sciences, as well as a Bachelor of the Arts degree from Berry College with a major in Religion and Philosophy and a minor in Anthropology. For over two years, Mr. Zefting has been supporting the RfP Advisory Forum on National Reconciliation and Peace in Myanmar in various capacities, including concept development, program management and implementation, monitoring and evaluation and coordination with local affiliates. He assists the Deputy Secretary General in the RfP movement-wide constituency relations among national and regional Inter-Religious Councils and Global Interfaith Youth Network.


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