NGOs – Conscience of the UN!
On a lower level of the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, are a series of conference rooms and offices where the “conscience of the United Nations” pulses.
At least that is what I discovered on Jan. 19, 2016. That day, I had the privilege of participating in meetings of standing Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO), Forums on the Environment (FOE), and on Spirituality and Values (FSV). I was accompanied by and was the guest of Dr. Marcel de Picciotto, international grand commander of the Ordo Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymitani (OSMTH), incorporated in the United States as the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem (SMOTJ).
Colonel James Sweeney of the Saint Mother Theodore Guerin SMOTJ Priory here in Indiana and Rev. Dr. Jean Ford, an OSMTH dame, and pastor of the River of Life American Baptist Church near Chicago, provided funds for my trip.
“This is where the conscience of the UN is,” Vita deWaal, representative of the Foundation for GAIA/GAIA and Planetary Association for Clean Energy/PACE told me as we gathered for the FOE meeting.
“This is where we, NGOs, collaborate to push boundaries on substantive issues, to address global concerns and to keep the needs of people of the world in the forefront of UN agenda and policy making,” she said.
Ms. De Waal chairs the FOE and also sits on the FSV. In addition to OSMTH, GAIA/PACE, other FOE members represent the Latter-day Saints Charities (LDS)*, the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University*, the Institute for Planetary Synthesis/IPS*, Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas/FAWCO, Mothers’ Legacy Project, International Islamic Relief Organization Saudi Arabia*, the Al-Hakim Foundation*, World Goodwill*, International Islamic Relief Organization*, and the Al-Hakim Foundation*. Like Ms. deWaal, the NGOs with asterisks, are on FSV as well.
The forums that I attended are among many such groups formed by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) accredited to the United Nations. Each forum has its own mission statement, list of priorities, goals and annual action plans. Despite their distinctiveness, forums strive to address substantive issues with a great awareness of conviction about how interconnected world problems are. They are passionate about sharing their competencies and participating effectively in the work of the UN.
No single definition for NGO exists. The term was first used in the 1945 UN Charter to designate a non-profit entity independent of governmental influence and political party affiliation that focuses on issues of human rights, environment, war and peace, and others requiring advocacy. Hundreds of NGOs with consultative status at the UN are listed.
At each forum meeting, the group received updates, finalized its 2016 mission statement, and then selected up to three issues related to its NGO mandate on which to focus.
At the forum on Spirituality and Values, members heard a report of an ongoing study connecting climate change and spiritual values and agreed to continue the work.
Regarding key issues, Dr. Picciotto, suggested peacemaking. He described OSMTH efforts in Jordan to “help those fleeing conflicts in the region to find ways of creating sustainable ways of peaceful living that would enable them to stay where they are.” He asked for and received support from the forum.
At a practical level, FSV members then finalized speakers of sessions for which they are responsible during the World Harmony Interfaith Week in February in Geneva, a yearly event sponsored by the Kingdom of Jordan.
Lucis Trust, Cercle Mondiale du Consensus, and the International Sustainable Energy Organization CMDC/ISEO also are part of FSV. Other NGO members were unable to attend due to other commitments.
At the FOE meeting, the emphasis was on the group’s mission to “further and strengthen an environmental perspective in all areas of the United Nations’ works.”
Protecting the human right to water quickly became the focus as the key issue members want to address in FOE efforts throughout 2016. They noted how drought in Syria has forced many from rural areas to move to the cities and are a key factor in the turmoil there. They also spoke of the increasing number of drought conditions in the world and about the relationship they perceived between exploitation of water sources and the lack of water for ordinary people in many regions.
I felt a bit guilty about the bottle of water in front of me that I had brought to the table from lunch and admitted as much.
Moving to the practical level, FOE members discussed and planned how to use their website more effectively to assure that the UN and peoples around the world recognize that “the environment is the one common denominator at the heart of most crises – economic, development, climate-change, trade, and social-cultural ones.”
My day experiencing firsthand the conscience of the UN through my meetings with representatives from many nations and faith traditions ended at 4 p.m. Attending these forums left me energized with a deeper awareness of how many people from all parts of the globe are investing themselves in making a difference as peacemakers and as protectors of the environment.
I felt a new hope for our world and planet and a newer, deeper responsibility for using my talents and gifts to support in whatever ways I can the work of these NGOs, especially those like the SMOTJ, who made this trip possible for me.
I felt especially pleased that I am a Sister of Providence, who stands with others in vowed and Associate communities already addressing these issues wherever we are.