2020 Ministerial to Advance Freedom of Religion or Belief
EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore
Warsaw, 16 November 2020
Excellencies; Ladies and Gentlemen;
I wish to thank Minister Rau for hosting this Ministerial today, which I am honoured to address on behalf of the European Union.
The COVID-19 crisis has underlined the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights. And it has brought with it serious challenges to human rights and democracy. In some countries, fears over the disease have been manipulated, which has led to a rise in discrimination, hate speech, hate crime and conspiracy theories targeting religious minorities.
As we know, some limitations on the exercise of rights, including those relating to religious gatherings and services, can and have been introduced as emergency measures in response to the health crisis. But these measures should be time-bound, non-discriminatory and proportionate to what is absolutely necessary.
The European Union, together with its Member States, continues to address violations of freedom of religion or belief throughout the world.
Last year alone, we did so during human rights dialogues with more than 20 countries and we have taken a public stance on numerous occasions.
The EU Guidelines on the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief guide the work of the EU institutions and the 140 Delegations of the EU around the world, as well as the Embassies of our Member States.
Freedom of religion or belief is a strong component of my mandate as EU Special Representative for Human Rights and a number of EU Member States have appointed Special Envoys on freedom of religion or belief that are active on the subject.
We work with others, especially through the UN, which remains the principle forum to promote human rights. For many years the EU has led a strong resolution on freedom of religion and belief in both the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee.
We strongly support the mandate of UN Special Rapporteur, Ahmed Shaheed and we welcome the creation of an international day for commemorating the victims of religious persecution.
We participate in the Istanbul Process, which is an important vehicle for dialogue with others, particularly the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
Dialogue is crucial to achieve inclusive and tolerant societies. That is why we have also established the innovative exchange platform on religion and social inclusion: The Global Exchange on Religion in Society.
This week the new EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy will be adopted and it will step up action to prevent and combat all forms of discrimination, intolerance, violence and persecution based on freedom of religion or belief, over the next 5 years.
The EU will continue to work closely with all actors to promote freedom of religion or belief – recognising that all human rights have equal worth and that to be truly effective, we must avoid politicisation and resist prioritisation of some rights over others. This is the best way to build truly inclusive and resilient societies, including in the post COVID future.