PM welcomes Truro report with pledge to fund research into freedom of religion and belief

30 August 2019

PA

The head of the RC Church in Sri Lanka, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, celebrates a mass at the re-opening of St Sebastian’s, Katuwapitiya, in Negombo, last month. The church has been closed since Easter Sunday, when more than 250 people were killed and hundreds more people injured in a terrorist-bomb-attack in the building (News, 21 April)

The head of the RC Church in Sri Lanka, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, celebrates a mass at the re-opening of St Sebastian’s, Katuwapitiya, in Negombo, last month. The church has been closed since Easter Sunday, when more than 250 people were killed and hundreds more people injured in a terrorist-bomb-attack in the building (News, 21 April)

THE Prime Minister has promised to champion freedom of religion and belief (FoRB) by implementing all of the recommendations made by the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, in his recent report on persecuted Christians.

Mr Johnson pledged £200,000 to fund research into tackling persecution of minorities in the UK and abroad, on Thursday of last week.

He said in a statement: “We will do everything possible to champion these freedoms and protect civilians in armed conflict, including religious, ethnic, or other minorities. We are determined to use the tools of British diplomacy in this cause, including our permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

“In light of mounting evidence that Christians suffer the most widespread persecution, we asked the Bishop of Truro to carry out an independent review to ensure that our work in this area matched the scale of the problem. We have accepted, and will implement, all of the review’s challenging recommendations. We will use the UK’s global reach and programme funding to improve the lives of persecuted people.”

Bishop Mounstephen writes in his report, published last month, that the FCO response to FoRB issues and violations is “patchy and inconsistent” (News, 12 July). He recommends that the FCO reject its “need not creed” policy — whereby aid is delivered according to a “religion-blind” model — and that the Government should be prepared to impose sanctions against perpetrators of FoRB abuses.

The Bishop welcomed the acceptance of his review, on Tuesday. “I’m delighted to hear the news, and encouraged that the Government is treating the issue with the seriousness it deserves.”

The announcement, which was delivered by the Minister of State for the Commonwealth, the UN, and South Asia, Lord Ahmad, coincided with the inaugural International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.

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The commemoration was established by the United Nations in May.

Lord Ahmad said: “The heinous attacks this year on places of worship from the Philippines to Burkino Faso, New Zealand to Sri Lanka, have reminded us all that the fundamental human right of freedom of religion or belief is increasingly under threat. Today, as we commemorate the victims of such acts of violence, we demonstrate our commitment to supporting research to change people’s lives and help build a world free of religious intolerance and hatred.”

The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, said that the commemoration was an opportunity to support of victims of persecution “by doing all in our power to prevent such attacks, and demanding that those responsible are held accountable”. This included rejecting people who “falsely and maliciously invoke religion to build misconceptions, fuel division, and spread fear and hatred”.

A legal researcher in religious freedom, Ewelina Ochab, said: “Until now, there has been no UN-led day focused exclusively on religiously motivated violence. . . While several states mark 27 October as the International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day, that is not a universally recognised annual day, and it has no equivalent within the UN. . .

“The establishment of such a day is not the end goal. . . It is the beginning of a larger campaign that aims to put an end to violence based on religion or belief whenever and wherever it occurs.”

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