Brethren Representative Attends UN Conference in Bonn

Church of the Brethren representative to the United Nations, Doris Abdullah, earlier this month attended a conference for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the topic “Sustainable Societies, Responsive Citizens: Commit-Encourage-Volunteer.” She is chair of the UN NGOs’ Human Rights Sub-Committee for the Elimination of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, and is a board member of On Earth Peace. Following are her observations on the conference:


Doris Abdullah, the Church of the Brethren’s representative to the United Nations, at the 64th United Nations DPI/NGO Conference in Bonn, Germany, early this month.

From Sept. 3-5 over 1,400 citizens from 70 different countries came together in Bonn, Germany, at the 64th United Nations DPI/NGO Conference. On Dec. 5, the UN General Assembly will consider a resolution declaring 2012 the Year of International Volunteers. The volunteer citizen will be at the heart of sustainable development from this day forward.

Brethren will not need a UN resolution to become volunteers, for volunteering remains a core value in Brethren commitments to love, peace, and justice. I felt a familiar comfort in the roundtable discussions on the “Role of Civil Societies in a Fast Changing World” and workshops such as the one on “Strengthening Social Cohesion through Voluntary Civil Engagement.”

I gathered new information at workshops on “Sustainable Farming in El Salvador” and “Unknown Volunteers,” which I deemed helpful to understanding gender, war, and poverty. Three shorts films produced by ATD Fourth World, set in Guatemala, France, and Rwanda, depicted the relationship of poverty and gender, and the correlation between war, peace, and development.

A big disappointment was that human rights were hardly mentioned, and there was a shortage of participation by the corporate world. A sustainable developed future will depend heavily on the responsive policies of industry acting in concert with governments, plus citizen volunteers.

This conference was the beginning of international discussion on building “Sustainable Societies, Responsive Citizens.” The conversation will continue in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, where projections are for upwards of 50,000 people to attend.

I was struck by a moment during the opening ceremony in Bonn. A young girl of 13 put her hands over the mouth of the mayor and told him, “Stop talking. Start acting.” Whether 1,400 or 50,000 people gather for a conference, it will not make a dime’s worth of difference if no actions are taken from these meetings to reduce poverty, empower women, stop racism and gender discrimination, find a solution to lessen dependency on carbon energy, stop the selling of weapons to the underdeveloped world, respect justice, and respect all life.

Some have said that volunteer is a term that means nothing to people in less developed countries. However, all societies value helping their neighbor, when the neighbor is in trouble and cannot do for themselves. For volunteering is an action taken by one person on the behalf of another, and is not just talk.