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The Bahá’í Community and the United Nations

The following article is condensed from a series of lectures given during the latter part of 1995 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the United Nations.

The well-being, peace and security of mankind have been on the Bahá’í Agenda for over 125 years. In the earliest Writings of Bahá'u'lláh , reference is made to what has become known as "collective security" and to the convocation of a world gathering of Heads of State to establish a Covenant between nations binding them to the furtherance of world peace. The purpose of such a gathering was elaborated by 'Abdu’l- Bahá in 1875, and during His travels in Europe and America in the years 1912-13. 'Abdu’l- Bahá was invited to address the Conference for Durable Peace in the Hague in 1919 and from the earliest days of world institutions, Bahá’ís have been involved. They were among the founder members of the League of Nations Union and, through an eminent Bahá’í, Lady Blomfield, played a large part in getting the very first piece of international legislation accepted.

United Nations is born

While He was in Sacramento, California at the end of October ,1912, 'Abdu’l- Bahá , addressing a large peace gathering said, "The greatest need in the world today is international peace ", and He followed this with the prophetic statement, "May the first flag of international peace be upraised in this State". 33 years later almost to the day, the Allied Nations Conference had drafted and adopted the Charter for the United Nations which came into effect on 24 October, 1945. Aware of the significance of the Conference, the Bahá’í community of San Francisco hosted a wide range of events and provided literature on world peace for all the delegates representing the 51 nations of the Alliance and the many non-governmental organisations present. In one of the original documents produced in those early years we find:

"World unity, the keynote of the Bahá’í Faith, embodies the very spirit of the age in which we live, and constitutes the cornerstone of the Bahá’í Peace Program. All the social and humanitarian teachings which it includes converge on the fundamental doctrine of the oneness of mankind ."

Early Recognition

Two years after its inauguration , the United Nations formally recognised the Bahá’ís in three significant ways. Firstly the United Nations Commission on Palestine requested from Shoghi Effendi, a statement on the relationship between the Bahá’í Faith and the Holy Land; secondly the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada set up a United Nations Committee and became affiliated with the U.N. Office of Public Information as a national Non-Governmental Organisation(NGO). and thirdly, that National Spiritual Assembly submitted two statements to the Economic and Social Council - one to the Human Rights Commission and the other to the Commission on the Status of Women.(1947)

In the following year the United States National Spiritual Assembly registered, on behalf of the eight National Spiritual Assemblies then in existence and as an international NGO, the Bahá’í International Community, which was enlarged each year as new National Spiritual Assemblies came into being. In 1949 the Bahá’í International Community was asked to submit proposals for the UN Prayer Building and in 1954 submitted proposals for revisions to the UN Charter

United Nations /Bahá’í International Community Relationship Develops.

In 1967 the responsibility for the Bahá’í International Community was taken over by the Universal House of Justice, by which time there were some 56 National Spiritual Assemblies,(with 113 by 1973; 149 in 1987 and 174 in 1995).

The close relationships between the Bahá’í International Community and the UN developed rapidly and significant events took place almost yearly from 1970, when the Bahá’í International Community was granted consultative status with ECOSOC.. From that time it presented papers and statements to almost every international and regional conference and during the years that followed the total number of presentations on a wide variety of subjects became most impressive .During the 1980s alone there were over 200..From a total of about 26 areas of interest we find some on Disarmament; Human Rights; Racial Discrimination; Social Development; Status of Women; Youth ; Children; World Food; Population; Law of the Sea; Nuclear Energy; Outer Space; Narcotic Drugs; and Crime Prevention.

In 1973 the Bahá’í International Community became affiliated to the UN Environmental Programme with an office in Nairobi; in 1976 it obtained consultative status with UNICEF; in 1980 it opened an office in the International Centre in Vienna and a major sub-office in Geneva. During this period the national development projects around the world multiplied and these led to UN-sponsored or co-sponsored small rural development schemes. Bahá’í projects had reached a total around the world of 500 by 1984; had risen to 1500 by 1987 and are upwards of 2400 today.

Bahá’í International Community’s Publications Increase.

Many of the Statements presented to UN Conferences were subsequently published and distributed widely, thereby demonstrating not only the total commitment of the Bahá’ís to the United Nations, but the quality of the Bahá’í contribution and their continual emphasis on the basic principles underlying world peace and security as laid down in their Scriptures. In addition to those already mentioned, such publications include: Global Co-operation and the Environment (1977) ; The Promise of Disarmament and Peace.(1978); To Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination (1978); Science and Technology for Human Advancement (1979); Statements to the Arusha and Havana Conferences for Women relating to Equality, Development and Peace. (1984); Peace and Disarmament (1985); UN. Commission on Human Settlements.(1985); Human Rights of Disabled Persons.(1985); Human Settlements. (1986); World Food Council.(1985); The Family.(1987); Relationship between Disarmament and Development (1987).

With the preparations for the series of Summits which began with the one on the Child, New York (1990); the Earth Summit, Rio, (1992); Population, Cairo, (1994); Social Development, Copenhagen,(1995) and for Women Beijing (1995); the Bahá’í International Community was called upon to play a very considerable rôle in all the PrepComs. and in addition produced statements for the World Conference on Education for All (1990); the drafting of the Universal Code of Environmental Conduct. (1990); International Legislation for Environment and Development. (1991); The Earth Charter.(1991); World Citizenship (1992);- A Global Strategy and Action-Plan for Social Development,(1994).

Since October,1994, three key documents have been released: the first defined the areas of external affairs which will attract the major Bahá’í emphasis (10 October.’94); a major work, "The Prosperity of Humankind" (22 Jan.’95),. an 87-page book for use in Beijing, "The Greatness Which Might Be Theirs", and a statement for the 50th Anniversary celebrations in New York - "Turning Point for All Nations" (October.’95) It is of considerable interest to Bahá’ís to read proposals by world leaders, which either embody principles which appear to have their origin in Bahá’í documents of more than a century ago or are moving towards them, and the recent emphasis on "Global Governance" is typical. Several statements on this theme have been issued in recent years but one of the most challenging is the one produced by the Commission on Global Governance under the title, "Our Global Neighbourhood". It is a 400-page book which ranks with such similar reports as that of the Brandt Commission,(1979); the Palme Report,(1982) and the Brundtland Report,-"Our Common Future"(1987).

A major proposal in the report is that the United Nations General Assembly hold a World Conference in 1998 with its decisions to be ratified and put into effect by 2000. It is said that this book will play a major rôle in laying the foundations for such a Conference. From the outset the Commission makes it clear that they are not proposing movement towards world government and state categorically that ‘global governance is not global government’.

In contrast to this is the emphasis placed from the earliest days of the Bahá’í Faith, on the evolution of federal world government and was dealt with in some detail by the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith from the early 1930s.

In the ‘Prosperity of Humankind’ document of Jan.’95 we read about the implications to all the sections of the human race of humanity’s coming of age and specifically, "It will bring about far-reaching changes in the governance of human affairs and in the institutions created to carry it out. Through its influence, the work of society’s rapidly proliferating non-governmental organisations will be increasingly rationalised. It will ensure the creation of binding legislation that will protect both the environment and the development needs of all peoples. Ultimately, the restructuring or transformation of the United Nations system that this movement is already bringing about will no doubt lead to the establishment of a world federation of nations with its own legislative, judicial and executive bodies."

The Commission’s "Our Global Neighbourhood" is of such significance however, that we should examine it carefully in the light of these recent Bahá’í statements.The book itself is divided into seven Chapters and it is only the last one occupying some 20 pages, entitled, "A Call To Action" which is in general circulation amon the Bahá’ís.. The other six chapters examine the world situation in some depth as their titles indicate- "A New World"; "Values for the Global Neighbourhood", "Promoting Security", "Managing Economic Interdependence", "Reforming the United Nations" and "Strengthening the Rule of Law Worldwide." Its opening chapter describes in detail what is meant by "Global Governance," beginning with the words,

"Governance is the sum of the many ways individuals and institutions, public and private, manage their common affairs.... There is no alternative to working together and using collective power to create a better world". The final chapter, giving a summary of the Commission’s proposals emphasises, "A global civic ethic to guide action within the global neighbourhood, and leadership infused with that ethic, is vital to the quality of global governance"

Introducing the book the co-chairmen stated:
"Our dominant feeling is of hope. We believe the most notable feature of the past fifty years has been the emancipation and empowerment of people. People today have more power to shape their future than ever before, and that could make all the difference....What is also new is the role of people and the shift of focus from states to people. An aspect of this change is the growth of international civil society "

From Bahá’í sources we find:
"The Lesser Peace anticipated by Bahá’u’lláh will, of course, be established by the nations themselves...two entities will push for its realisation: the governments of the world and the peoples of the world through the instrumentality of the organisations of civil society"(Ex.Affairs ,1994)

"International institutions cannot develop into an effective and mature level of government and fulfil their primary objective to advance human civilisation, if they do not recognise and nurture their relationship of mutual dependency with the people of the world ....the United Nations needs to adopt initiatives that release the latent power in all people to participate in this galvanising process....promoting economic development, protecting human rights, advancing the status of women and emphasising moral development are four priorities so closely tied to the advancement of civilisation that they must be emphasised as part of the United Nations agenda."(TPFAN,Oct.1995,p14)

In the opening of the Summary of Proposals of OGN, the Commission writes;
"We further believe humanity as a whole will be best served by recognition of a set of common rights and responsibilities ." ( and these are then listed) (OGN, p336)

The Bahá’í document to the Human Rights Commission in February, 1947 carried the title: "A Bahá’í Declaration of Human Obligations and Rights" and there is a remarkable similiarity between the rights and responsibilities listed in the Commission’s book of 1995 and the Bahá’í submission of some 48 years before.

The Commission also suggests among many other things that the Charter be modified to permit intervention in some circumstances in the domestic affairs of a state; the establishment of a United Nations Volunteer Force; an Economic Security Council; several suggestions for ‘Reforming the United Nations ; the appointment of a Senior Advisor on Womens Issues and ‘Strengthening the Rule of Law World-wide’.

The Bahá’í publication, "Turning Point for All Nations" makes many more suggestions and puts into a Bahá’í perspective all the valuable comments made in "Our Global Neighbourhood" but it is of such significance that it requires another article adequately to examine them.


During 22-24 October,1995 at the 50th Anniversary Special Commemorative Session of the United Nations in New York, the largest ever gathering of world leaders was addressed by 200 speakers which included 91 Heads of State, eight vice-presidents, one crown prince, 37 prime ministers, 10 deputy prime miniters and 21 foreign ministers. The message to that gathering from the Secretary-General opened:

"Today the peoples of the United Nations mark the fiftieth anniversary of the only truly universal organisation in humanity’s history. Fifty years is a tiny drop in the stream of centuries. But no other institution in history has gathered together so many political communities. No other has survived so many storms. No other has built such a promising foundation for the future as has the United Nations ."

His closing remarks echo the feelings of the Bahá’ís the world over:
"The United Nations provides the focus for the common global effort. Here is the world Organisation created to serve all peoples. Here is the machinery we can transform into a responsive instrument esssential to the realisation of humanity’s finest hopes."

With the guidance given in the "Prosperity of Humankind" and "Turning Point for All Nations" documents and the continuing support being given to our efforts by the Bahá’í International Community we can make a powerful contribution to that transformation of the United Nations called for by its Secretary-General.

Refering to these exciting developments as long ago as January,1983, the Universal House of Justice wrote, "Undoubtedly, as these developments are taking place, the counsel the institutions of the Faith can give to governments, the pattern of world administration offered by the Bahá’í community and the great humanitarian projects which will be launched under the aegis of the Universal House of Justice, will exercise a great influence on the course of progress." In January, two years later, "As to the Lesser Peace, Shoghi Effendi has explained that this will initially be a political unity arrived at by decision of the governments of various nations; it will not be established by direct action of the Bahá’í community. This does not mean, however, that the Bahá’ís are standing aside and waiting for the Lesser Peace to come before they do something about the peace of mankind.....The Lesser Peace itself will pass through stages; at the initial stage the governments will act entirely on their own without the conscious involvement of the Faith; later on , in God’s good time, the Faith will have a direct influence on it....In connection with the steps that will lead to this latter stage, the Universal House of Justice will certainly determine what has to be done....In the meantime, the Bahá’ís will undoubtedly continue to do all in their power to promote the establishment of world peace."

Philip Hainsworth (1995)

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