Welcoming Remarks at the 2014 Annual International Conference on Ethnic and Religious Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding

Good morning everyone!

On behalf of the ICERM Board of Directors, sponsors, staff, volunteers and partners, it is my sincere honor and high privilege to welcome you all to the First Annual International Conference on Ethnic and Religious Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding.

I want to thank you all for taking the time from your busy schedules (or retired life) to join us for this occasion. It is so wonderful to see and be in the company of so many renowned scholars, conflict resolution practitioners, policymakers, leaders and students from many countries around the world. I would like to mention that many people would have loved to be here today, but due to some reasons, they could not make it. Some of whom are watching the event online as we speak. So, permit me to also welcome our online community to this conference.

Through this international conference, we want to send a message of hope to the world, especially to the young people and children who are getting frustrated over the frequent, incessant and violent ethnic and religious conflicts that presently confront us.

The 21st century continues to experience waves of ethnic and religious violence making it one of the most devastating threats to peace, political stabilization, economic growth and security in our world. These conflicts have killed and maimed tens of thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands, planting the seed for even greater violence in the future.

For our First Annual International Conference, we have chosen the theme: “The Advantages of Ethnic & Religious Identity in Conflict Mediation and Peacebuilding.” Too often, differences in ethnicity and faith traditions are seen as a drawback to the peace process. It is time to turn these assumptions around and rediscover the benefits that these differences offer. It is our contention that societies made up of an amalgamation of ethnicities and faith traditions offer largely unexplored assets to the policy makers, donor & humanitarian agencies, and mediation practitioners working to assist them.

This conference is, therefore, aimed at introducing a positive look at ethnic and religious groups and their roles in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. Papers for presentation at this conference and the publication thereafter will support a shift from the focus on ethnic and religious differences and their disadvantages, to finding and utilizing the commonalities and advantages of culturally diverse populations. The goal is to help one another discover and make the most of what these populations have to offer in terms of mitigating conflict, advancing peace, and strengthening economies for the betterment of all.

It is the purpose of this conference to help us get to know one another and see our connections & commonalities in a way that has not been made available in the past; to inspire new thinking, stimulate ideas, inquiry, and dialogue & share empirical accounts, which will introduce and support evidence of the numerous advantages that multi-ethnic & multi-faith populations offer to facilitate peace and advance social, economic well-being.

We have planned an exciting program for you; a program that includes a keynote speech, insights from the experts, and panel discussions. We are confident that through these activities, we will acquire new theoretical and practical tools and skills that will help prevent and resolve ethnic and religious conflicts in our world.

ICERM places strong emphasis on open-hearted discussions in the spirit of give-and-take, reciprocity, mutual trust and good will. We believe that contentious issues have to be resolved privately and quietly, and complicated problems cannot be solved by simply holding violent demonstrations, coups, wars, bombings, assassinations, terrorist attacks and massacres or by headlines in the Press. As Donald Horowitz said in his book, Ethnic Groups in Conflict, “It is only through mutual discussion and good will that amicable settlement can be reached.”

With all humility I would like to add that, what started in 2012 as a modest project that was aimed at proposing alternative methods of preventing, resolving, and educating people about interethnic and interreligious conflicts, has today become a vibrant nonprofit organization and an international movement, one that embodies the community spirit and a network of bridge builders from many countries around the world. We are honored to have in our midst some of our bridge builders. Some of them traveled from their home countries to attend this conference in New York. They worked tirelessly to make this event possible.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank our Board members, especially the Chair of the Board of Directors, Dr. Dianna Wuagneux. Since 2012, Dr. Dianna and I with the help of our Board members have worked day and night in order to make ICERM a functioning organization.  Unfortunately, Dr. Dianna Wuagneux is not physically present with us today due to some urgent needs that suddenly came up.  I want to read a portion of the message I received from her few hours ago:

“Hello my dear Friend,

You have earned such great faith and admiration from me that I have no doubt that everything that you put your hand to during these coming days will be a substantial success.

I will be with you and our other members in spirit while I am away, and will look forward to hearing about every moment as the conference comes together and celebrates what can be possible when people are willing to put their care and attention towards the most important of all goals, peace.

I am heart-sore at the thought of not being there to provide helping hands and words of encouragement for this event, but have to trust that the highest good is unfolding as it should.” That was from Dr. Dianna Wuagneux, the Board Chair.

In a special way, I would like to publicly acknowledge the support we have received from an important person in my life. Without this person’s patience, generous financial support, encouragement, technical and professional assistance, and dedication to fostering a culture of peace, this organization would not have existed. Please join me to thank my beautiful wife, Diomaris Gonzalez. Diomaris is the strongest pillar that ICERM has. As the conference day was approaching, she took two days off from her important job in order to make sure that this conference is successful. I will not also forget to acknowledge the role of my mother-in-law, Diomares Gonzalez, who is here with us.

And finally, we are thrilled to have with us someone who understands the issues that we want to discuss at this conference better than most of us. She is a faith leader, an author, activist, analyst, professional speaker and career diplomat. She is the immediate past Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom for the United States of America. For the past four and half years, 2 years of preparing for and passing a unanimous US Senate Confirmation Hearing, and 2 ½ years in office, she had the privilege and honor of serving the first African American President of the United States.

Appointed by President Barack Obama as the United States Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, she was the principal advisor to both the President of the United States and Secretary of State for Religious Freedom globally. She was the first African American and the first female to hold this position. She was the 3rd Ambassador at Large, since its creation, and represented the United States in more than 25 countries and more than l00 Diplomatic engagements, integrating Religious Freedom into the U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security Priorities

An International Influencer, and success strategist, known for her bridge building giftedness, and distinctive diplomacy with dignity, she has just been named a DISTINGUISHED VISITING FELLOW with the Catholic University of America for 2014, and has been invited to be a Fellow at Oxford University in London.

ESSENCE Magazine named her one of the TOP 40 Power women, along with First Lady Michelle Obama (2011), and MOVES Magazine recently named her as one of the TOP POWER MOVES women for 2013 at a Red Carpet Gala in New York City.

She is the recipient of several awards, including the Woman of Conscience Award from the UN, the Martin Luther King Jr. Award, the Visionary Leader’s Award, the Judith Hollister Peace Award, and the Hellenic Award for Public Service, and has also authored ten books, three of them bestsellers, including “Too Blessed to be Stressed: Words of Wisdom for Women on the Move (Thomas Nelson).

As for honors and highlights of her life, she cites: “I’m a faith entrepreneur, connecting business, faith and political leaders around the globe.”

Today, she is here to share with us her experiences in connecting ethnic and religious groups in countries around the globe, and help us understand The Advantages of Ethnic & Religious Identity in Conflict Mediation and Peacebuilding.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please join me to welcome the Keynote Speaker of our First Annual International Conference on Ethnic and Religious Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding, Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook.

This speech was given at the International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation’s 1st Annual International Conference on Ethnic and Religious Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding held in New York City, USA, on  October 1, 2014. The theme of the conference was: “The Advantages of Ethnic & Religious Identity in Conflict Mediation and Peacebuilding.”

Welcoming Remarks:

Basil Ugorji, Founder & CEO, International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation, New York.

Keynote Speaker:

Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook, 3rd Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom for the United States of America.

Morning Moderator:

Francisco Pucciarello.


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