Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief
“Promoting Freedom of Religion or Belief in the face of global challenges”
Remarks by the EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen; I wish to thank Foreign Secretary Truss for hosting this Ministerial today, which I am honoured to address on behalf of the European Union.
Religion can be a vehicle for the promotion of peaceful coexistence and mutual respect; a mechanism to advocate for those who are vulnerable, to stand up for justice and to ensure every human being lives in dignity.
I have seen first-hand the extraordinary work of both faith-based and non-faith based actors to build peace and combat poverty in their communities and their country. However, I have also seen that freedom of religion or belief has become a barometer for how governments perceive human rights in general and for how they protect those rights.
More and more, religion is being used for political purposes around the world. This strips religion of its true meaning and becomes just another cynical way of acquiring and maintaining power.
We all have the right to live and act according to our conscience, whether we are religious or not. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms everyone’s “right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” No one should be persecuted or privileged because of their religion or belief. No one should be forced to live by another’s belief. And of course freedom of religion or belief should never undermine other rights, such as the right to education or women’s and LGBTI rights, nor be used as a justification for discrimination, bigotry or violence.
The global environment for freedom of religion or belief is challenging and that is why promoting it remains central part of the European Union’s work on human rights and a strong feature of my mandate as EU Special Representative for Human Rights.
The main guide for our work is the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy for 2020 to 2024. And over the last few years, we have intensified action to prevent and combat all forms of discrimination, intolerance, violence and persecution against people based on their exercise of the freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief.
We take a public stance through statements, but we also raise our concerns directly with governments through our human rights dialogues. We call on all countries to protect the right for everybody to have or not have a religion or belief, to manifest or to change their religion or belief and we firmly condemn the criminalisation of apostasy and the abuse of blasphemy laws.
Building inclusive and resilient societies is a strong focus in our multilateral work and also guides many EU initiatives. At the March session of the Human Rights Council, the EU resolution on freedom of religion or belief renewed the mandate of UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. We are also engaging actively with other international organisations, in particular with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and we continue to work with others in the Istanbul Process.
We have continued to implement the ‘Global Exchange on Religion in Society’ project. This aims to connect civil society actors from all around the world who are working on faith and social inclusion. Civil society and human rights defenders are critical partners in all of our work.
This is a challenging moment, but much is being done and it is important not be overwhelmed by the challenges and difficulties we face. The EU will continue to work closely with all actors to promote freedom of religion or belief. We do with the strong conviction that all human rights have equal worth. When religion is used to undermine another right, all other rights can be weakened. Freedom is all encompassing and cannot be confined to religion alone. This must always be our guide in promoting freedom of religion or belief.