8th Meeting of the Istanbul Process

Opening Remarks to the 8th Meeting of the Istanbul Process

EUSR for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore

Online event, 16 February 2022


Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen, Good Morning Everyone,

I want to thank the Government of Pakistan for hosting the 8th Meeting of the Istanbul Process and for inviting me to deliver some welcoming remarks on behalf of the EU on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of HRC Resolution 16/18.

Since its inception in 2011, the Istanbul Process has been a vital space for States to come together through dialogue and exchange to better understand how to combat religious intolerance and hatred, and how to collectively follow up on the implementation of Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18. 16/18 has been described as a landmark resolution, and rightly so. It remains as relevant today as it was at the time of its adoption ten years ago.

Two years on from the last meeting of the Istanbul Process, it is essential that we once again gather together members of the diplomatic community, civil society practitioners, religious actors and UN experts to discuss how to combat in practice, discrimination, intolerance and violence on the grounds of religion or belief. I am very conscious of the fact, that this meeting is the first meeting of the Istanbul Process since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the course of last two years, stigma, discrimination and violence based on the grounds of religion and belief has unfortunately grown.
During COVID-19 related lockdowns, some States have imposed uneven restrictions of fundamental freedoms on individuals, depending on their religion or belief. Individuals and some minorities have even been scapegoated for “spreading the virus”, while others have been discriminated against in terms of accessing health services and social protection measures.

We consider it unacceptable that any individual anywhere in the world would be harassed, discriminated against or killed for their religion or for holding humanist and/or atheist beliefs.

In order to properly implement some of the recommendations of the Istanbul Process, we encourage all institutional and State representatives to be introspective and to identify how the fight against negative stereotyping can be strengthened in their own countries.

In the EU, as documented by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, some minorities still face hate speech, hate crime and/or negative stereotyping. We are constantly listening to the recommendations of civil society and religious representatives to improve our policy framework and for example last year, elaborated our first ever EU Strategy on combatting antisemitism.

We look forward to the exchanges and panel discussions that will take place today. The Istanbul Process is an important forum in which to exchange best practices on key policies of fighting discrimination in law enforcement, on combatting hate speech online, or to ensure that nobody is discriminated in accessing public services.

For the Istanbul Process to continue to be meaningful, it will need to continue to be as inclusive as possible, with the participation of more civil society representatives, and representatives from minority communities or women of faith. The Istanbul Process should complement the continuous discussions and exchanges held within the UN fora, whether at the Human Rights Council or the 3rd Committee of the UN General Assembly. We firmly believe that we all need to continue to exchange constructively at the UN, identifying major freedom of religion or belief violations when they happen, and identifying common solutions. The EU strongly supports the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and our new resolution at HRC49 will aim to renew that mandate for the next 3 years.

I hope that the upcoming discussions will be fruitful, and that we will be able to identify specific good practices to combat negative stereotyping, such as the need to invest more on law enforcement training programmes or increase interfaith engagement.

The EU will remain a strong ally of States and civil society representatives who want to promote and protect freedom of religion or belief in line with international human rights law. We are firmly committed to condemning discrimination, intolerance, violence, and persecution against or by any person based on the grounds of religion or belief. We will continue to be strong advocates of the right for everybody to have, or to not have, a religion or belief, and to manifest or to change their religion or belief, while condemning the criminalisation of apostasy and the abuse of blasphemy laws.

The EU will continue to promote and protect the right to freedom of expression and to support interfaith dialogue as an effective tool to promote human rights. We will continue to highlight the importance of UN conflict prevention, reconciliation and mediation efforts, including by contributing to efforts to safeguard religious heritage, while fully respecting human rights. The EU will continue to use all its tools, including human rights dialogues, to call on States to protect individuals from persecution and discrimination based on religion or belief.

Ultimately, if we are to be successful in our collective endeavours, we must start from one shared belief: that all human rights are universal and have equal worth, and we must avoid the politicisation and prioritisation of some rights over others. This is the only way that we will succeed in building a truly inclusive and resilient society.

I appreciate the role that Pakistan and other OIC countries play in advancing the Istanbul Process. One of its objectives is to open new dialogues on tolerance and on the importance of human rights. In that regard, I am looking forward to continuing today’s discussion on tackling religious intolerance and promoting freedom of religion or belief during my visit to Pakistan next week.

Thank you.