Long-time United Nations administrator Ambassador Iqbal Riza visited the Seventh-day Adventist world church headquarters last week to learn more about the Adventist Church, meet with church leaders, and to dialogue about current humanitarian issues. Riza, currently a special advisor to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, has served within the UN structure for more than 35 years. At a lunch gathering of Adventist leaders from the United States, Africa, Europe, and South and Inter-America, Riza shared his perspective on today’s most pressing geopolitical and economic challenges.
“The world is at a stage today when the enmities of the past have not completely disappeared, and new enmities have appeared,” said Riza. He spoke about the “larger part of humanity that lives, perhaps not in subhuman conditions, but certainly in dire poverty.” In describing the goals of the United Nations, Riza quoted the so-called “four freedoms” first expressed by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941: “Freedom of speech; freedom of worship; freedom from want; freedom from fear.”
According to Riza, religious institutions can do much to “improve the lives of the deprived, poor, disadvantaged, dispossessed.” But, he added, “no one [organization] can do it all. Each must do it in their own way, to the extent of their own capacities.” He noted, especially, the Adventist Church’s emphasis on health and education, saying that education is absolutely crucial in opening minds, and allowing individuals to live fuller, more meaningful lives.
Riza also expressed appreciation for the multi-cultural environment of the General Conference office, where workers represent more than 100 nationalities and ethnicities.
In response, Adventist Church president Pastor Ted N.C. Wilson said that Adventists are “are dedicated to serving humanity in every way that Jesus did—physically, mentally, socially, and spirituality.” He thanked the Riza for visiting the church headquarters, and for his willingness to dialogue about issues of common concern. “We hope, as you have opportunity to interface with Adventists, you will better understand our perspective: that we are here to honor God and to serve our fellow human beings.”
Wilson first met Riza in April this year during a visit with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the United Nations headquarters in New York. That meeting was the first between an Adventist Church president and a UN Secretary-General. Riza’s visit to the Adventist headquarters followed an invitation extended by Dr. Ganoune Diop, director of the church’s Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department.
“I am delighted we could host His Excellency Mr. Riza at the world church headquarters, and introduce him to some of our departmental directors and administrative leaders from around the world,” said Diop. “As a global church, we offer a wide range of services that directly impact quality of life in the communities where we operate, especially in the areas of health care, education, and humanitarian assistance. I believe it’s important we continue building positive relationships with the UN, and others within the international community whose goals overlap with ours.”
The depth and breadth of Riza’s UN experience is striking—over the years, he has held a number of keys posts, including Chief of Staff to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Assistant Secretary-General for UN Peacekeeping Operations, Chief of the UN Mission in Bosinia and Herzegovina, and Director of the Division for Political and General Assembly Affairs. Prior to joining the UN in 1977, Riza spent 19 years in the foreign service of his home country, Pakistan.