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Freedom of religion or belief must be protected, say MPs and peers

27 October 2017


Precarious: a boy flies a kite at an evacutaion site in Pantar. Lanao Dei Sur, southern Philippines, last Friday, a few days after President Duterte announced the liberation of Marawi city from pro-Islamic State militants

Precarious: a boy flies a kite at an evacutaion site in Pantar. Lanao Dei Sur, southern Philippines, last Friday, a few days after President Duterte a...

ATTACKS on the freedom of religion are on the rise around the world, and protecting that freedom must become a priority of both the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development (DfID), a new report by a parliamentary committee argues.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief released the report, Article 18: From rhetoric to reality, on Wednesday, to mark International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day, which is today.

Among the contributors to the report was the UN’s special rapporteur for freedom of religion and belief, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, who wrote: “This report comes at a time when acts of intolerance involving religion or belief are on the rise globally.

“There is no one type of perpetrator or victim. Groups that face persecution in one country may be the persecutors in others.

“Despite global commitments to promote and to protect freedom of religion or belief, the scale of violations remains enormous, with almost 80 per cent of the world’s population living in countries with ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels of restrictions and/or hostilities towards certain beliefs.”

He urged the Government to implement the report’s recommendations, which include: naming freedom of religion and belief (FoRB) as a priority for both the DfID and the Foreign Office’s work; supporting the international team which is collecting evidence of Islamic State’s crimes against humanity; ensuring that aid goes to organisations that demonstrate a clear understanding of FoRB; and improving the religious literacy among civil servants and diplomats.

The Foreign Office’s Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy should also be revised to make funding available for civil-society projects that seek to advance FoRB, and integrate FoRB into existing counter-extremism programmes, such as Prevent.

Besides being an inherent human right, enshrined in many international agreements, upholding FoRB can also play a part in creating more tolerant and inclusive societies, the report suggests. It goes on to say that ensuring that communities protect each other’s right to worship differently is critical in both creating lasting peace and prosperity, and in countering the spread of extremism.

Jim Shannon, the Democratic Unionist Party MP who chairs the APPG, wrote in the report that, in the four years since the group’s last publication, the situation had got worse, not better.

“While there is now considerable national and international discussion about the importance of freedom of religion or belief, and how to tackle the violations, there remains a need to embed systematic and proactive actions and policies to move FoRB from rhetoric to reality,” he said.

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