What's In Blue

Posted Thu 18 Mar 2021

Arria-formula Meeting: Religion, Belief and Conflict

Tomorrow (19 March) at 10 am (EST), there will be a virtual Arria-formula meeting on “Religion, Belief and Conflict: the protection of members of religious and belief groups in conflict and religious actors in conflict resolution”, initiated by the UK. At the time of writing, Estonia, Norway and the US had also agreed to co-sponsor the meeting, which will be webcast on UNTV.

Lord Ahmed, UK Minister of State at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, is expected to chair the meeting. The briefers will be: Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and a member of the Secretary-General’s High-level Advisory Board on Mediation; Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, Special Adviser and Head of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) (and Chief Prosecutor-designate of the International Criminal Court); Azza Karam, Secretary General of Religions for Peace; and Ekhlas Bajoo, a member of the Yazidi community. In addition to the briefings and statements by Council members, non-Council members and observer states will have the opportunity to submit written statements. All of the statements will be compiled and submitted to the Security Council president to be circulated as a public document of the Council.

A concept note has been produced in advance of the meeting that indicates that the discussion will focus on the Middle East, examining how religious actors in peace processes can help support conflict resolution in a gender-sensitive way. The meeting is also likely to focus on how to protect religious and other belief groups in armed conflicts and how to approach this issue through a conflict prevention lens.

The concept note poses three questions to help guide the discussion:

  • What specific protections are necessary to protect members of religious and belief groups in conflict, and how can such measures help sustain peace?
  • What contribution can religious actors make to peace processes, and what role can they play in enhancing inclusivity and gender sensitivity in conflict resolution?
  • What further steps can the UN, including the Security Council, take to promote the role of religious actors in peace processes and by extension broader conflict resolution?

The Security Council has addressed persecution or violence against religious groups on a number of occasions. In resolution 2250 (2015) on youth, peace and security (YPS), it called on “all relevant actors to consider instituting mechanisms to promote a culture of peace, tolerance and interreligious dialogue that involve youth”. Resolution 2419 (2018), also on YPS, recognised “the role of youth in promoting a culture of peace, tolerance, intercultural and interreligious dialogue” in order to discourage violence and discrimination. The Council has condemned human trafficking by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) of the Yazidis and persons from other religious and ethnic groups in resolutions 2331 (2016) and 2388 (2017). In adopting resolution 2379 (2017) establishing UNITAD—an investigative team tasked with collecting, storing and preserving evidence of ISIL crimes in Iraq—it also referenced attacks motivated by “religious or ethnic grounds”.

In August 2019, Council members held an Arria-formula meeting focused on a theme similar to tomorrow’s session. That meeting, entitled “Advancing the safety and security of persons belonging to religious minorities in armed conflict”, was initiated by then-Council member Poland, in conjunction with the UK and the US, and non-Council members Brazil, Canada and Jordan.

Several Council members believe that the protection of members of religious or belief groups in armed conflict is an issue that could be more systematically integrated into the Council’s work. In tomorrow’s meeting, they may note that violence against religious or other belief groups is a challenge in several cases on the Council’s agenda in the Middle East, such as Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. They may emphasise the importance of understanding how persecution based on religion or belief can contribute to conflict and share perspectives on how to prevent violence against religious and other belief groups. They may also underscore the role that religious leaders can play in mediating conflict and in supporting reconciliation processes.

Other members may be more circumspect regarding Security Council engagement on this topic. They may emphasise the role that sovereign states have in developing policies to protect religious and other belief groups from violence, including in conflict situations. They may also underscore the importance of addressing under-development, poverty, lack of livelihood opportunities and other “root causes of conflict” as a means of eradicating armed conflict and the targeting of certain groups in these contexts.