Last week, three members of ISKCON Communications attended the Fifth Session of the Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom. The conference was organized by the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, located in Washington, D.C. The ISKCON delegation met lawmakers from countries around the world. Speakers included Ambassador Michael Kozak from the US National Security Council; a Vatican representative; and a member of the British House of Lords. The ISKCON Communications staff in attendance were Anuttama Dasa, Rita Gupta, and Rukmini Walker, based in Potomac, Maryland.
The final panel was dedicated to the issue of "Identity, Sovereignty, and Human Rights in a Globalized World." The first speaker, a self-described Universalist, proposed that the cause of genocide is the individual's self-hatred due to his indentification with matter. He said that this self-hatred leads to hating others who beome indentified as the "outsiders." A representative from Southern Sudan agreed that mis-identification is a major factor in the civil war in his country. "If you impose your identity on me, definitely I will rebel," he said. "This imposing your identity over other people in the case of Sudan led to a lot of atrocities. [In] the South, we're saying 'No, we are not Arabs and we are not Muslims also.'"
Most conference attendees were familiar with the Hare Krishna movement, and were eager to work together in the future on issues of common concern. Many African delegates were keenly interested in the Working Villages International project in Eastern Congo, and other ISKCON-friendly projects. Delegates agreed that Western-style industrialization is not an option for their countries, and are looking for sustainable alternatives. Working Villages International trains workers in techniques of organic agriculture to help them develop farms of their own. The project began in 2006. There are currently seventy-five acres of land in cultivation, and produce enough food for one thousand people. Working Villages is supported in part by ISKCON devotees.
The ISKCON delegation also had the opportunity to raise the issue of persecution of devotees in Kazakhstan. During informal discussion between sessions, many delegates readily agreed that Kazakhstan places numerous barriers against religious freedom, and that the situations is worsening. On November 26, the Kazakh Senate passed a law that will significantly increase the restrictions on freedom of thought, conscience, and belief. One new restriction is an explicit ban on unregistered religious activity. The new law also forbids any person from sharing his religious beliefs with another person unless he is registered as a missionary and has the written support of a registered religious association and also personal state registration as a missionary. These are just two examples of the harsh restrictions in the new legislation.
The law now will be sent to the US president for his signature. Human Rights Watch, an NGO headquartered in New York City, recently published a report on Kazakhstan entitled "An Atmosphere of Quiet Repression" which discusses this new law.
The Kazakh government bulldozed the homes of twenty-six Hare Krishna devotees in 2006 and 2007. Krishna devotees are also currently in court in an attempt to prevent the seizure of their temple and 116-acre farm. The farm is the only Hare Krishna farm community in thr former Soviet Union. The government has also targeted members of other faiths, including Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Lutherans, and Muslims.
Galya Karibzhanova from Kazakhstan was scheduled to speak on the first day of the conference. Karibzhanova is Head of International Cooperation Department, Ministry of Environmental Protection. Karibzhanova did not speak, and no member of the Kazakh delegation took his place.
One of the main objectives of ISKCON Communications is to raise awareness of the positive contributions the Society is making. Working with inter-faith and human rights groups is one method for raising this awareness, and for learning about other traditions. Working with inter-faith groups is also an opportunity to share our faith in the process of cleansing the heart by chanting the names of God. For example, while discussing the civil war in Sudan over lunch, one ISKCON delegate received complete agreement at her table when she said that political problems ultimately could only be solved by removing hatred and greed from the heart.