MINISTERS and ambassadors from around the world met in London on
Tuesday to discuss religious intolerance and freedom of belief.
The meeting was convened by Baroness Warsi, Senior Minister of
State at the Foreign Office, and Minister for Faith and
Communities, who is a practising Muslim.
A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said that freedom of
religion was "a plank at the heart of our human-rights agenda, and
this first meeting will enable us to discuss how we can move
international discussions forward on these issues within the
framework of the UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18.
"We also want to build a deeper understanding of the shared
issues we face together, and to understand more about each other's
viewpoints. Through this we hope to be able to build a stronger
international consensus on the issues of how best to deal with
religious intolerance, and guarantee the right to freedom of
religion or belief for all."
On the same day as this meeting, the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt
Revd Christopher Hill, moved a short debate in the House of Lords
on the question what the Government's "strategy [is] for promoting
freedom of religion and conscience internationally as a fundamental
human right, and as a source of stability for all countries".
Introducing the debate, Bishop Hill said: "The European Union is
developing guidelines on freedom of religion or belief, but, like
many things in relation to the EU, greater transparency would be
Bishop Hill continued: "The Foreign Secretary has an important
advisory group on human rights; but should there not also be some
group, under the minister, on religious freedom, to work with the
Foreign Secretary's group?"
The Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer, spoke
of "the increasing abuse of blasphemy laws across the world".
He said: "The Church of Pakistan has actively challenged the
misuse of blasphemy laws in that country, which has led to the
persecution of both Hindus and Christians, and which, in
particular, appears to be used to prevent Muslims from converting
to another religion or to no religion."
Bishop Packer asked whether the Government would make it clear
"that countries which pass discriminatory legislation such as
repressive blasphemy laws . . . risk their reputation in the