United Nations

Focusing on the principle of service, more than 150 Baha'is gather at Habitat II

ISTANBUL, Turkey - Believing that the success of Habitat II would hinge largely on its stated goal of building new partnerships among all sectors of society worldwide, some 150 Bahá'ís from more than 25 countries came to Istanbul for the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements and its parallel Forums.

Their focus, in addition to promoting a vision of sustainable development for human settlements based on spiritual principles and priorities, was to support the dynamic new processes of cooperation and collaboration between civil society and governments that underpin much of Habitat II's approach.

At the Conference itself, representatives of the Bahá'í International Community were active in the advocacy process by which non-governmental organizations (NGOs) sought changes in the official text of the Habitat Agenda, contributing to the official "NGO" statements presented to governments and reading to the plenary session an oral statement entitled "Sustainable Communities in an Integrating World." [See page 2.]

Bahá'ís also volunteered in a number of ways to help facilitate the processes at Habitat II, from serving as NGO "floor managers" at the official Conference to chairing various NGO meetings. At least 49 Bahá'ís were accredited to Habitat II. They were representatives not only of national Bahá'í communities, which are recognized as national NGOs in their countries, but also of professional associations, business networks, and youth organizations. About 100 others were also registered at the NGO Forum.

"In the processes of Habitat II, the Bahá'&iacute ;s were very active," said Vichetra Sharma, a representative of the International Planned Parenthood Foundation who participated in Habitat II. "Bahá'í input was felt when there were bottlenecks, particularly. The volunteers of the Bahá'í community were there to help out as well as smooth over any problems, frictions or conflicts."

More than a dozen Bahá'í business people attended the World Business Forum, for example, said George Starcher, the secretary-general of the European Bahá'í Business Forum (EBBF), a professional network of more than 250 businesspeople from some 46 countries. Mr. Starcher served on the drafting committee of the World Business Forum, which fashioned a statement on business ethics for presentation to government delegates at the Partners' Committee.

Bahá'í institutions and agencies held more than 35 workshops and symposia at the various Forums of Habitat II. Topics ranged from "Shelter: Individual Right or Community Responsibility" to "Youth and Global Governance." Individual Bahá'ís also held numerous workshops in their professional capacities. And several cultural events were sponsored by Bahá'í communities, including two shows by Kevin Locke, who performed traditional Native American flute and hoop dancing before more than 1,200 people.

The Bahá'í Community of Turkey was one of the first NGOs in Turkey to become involved in the Habitat preparatory process and it provided a focal point for youth activities at Habitat II, playing a central role in bringing together hundreds of youth from around the world. The Bahá'ís of Turkey also launched a major campaign to promote the concept of world citizenship during Habitat II.

"For the worldwide Bahá'í community, Habitat II marks yet another historic effort to set new international norms and standards that are critical for humanity's long term prosperity in our age of interdependence," said Lawrence Arturo, who directed the Bahá'í International Community's representation at Habitat II. "In UN Conferences such as Habitat II we see concrete evidence of an emerging unity of thought in world undertakings, reflecting the increasing acceptance of the idea that humankind is a single family, and that the only way for civilization to progress and flourish is through the collective participation of all humanity in the processes of peace and development.

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