THE appointment of Fiona Bruce MP as the Government’s special envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) will help people of faith to live “without fear or favour across the world”, the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, has said.
Ms Bruce is the Conservative MP for Congleton and chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief. Her appointment as special envoy was announced by the Prime Minister on Sunday.
She succeeds Rehman Chishti MP, who resigned from the position in September, saying he could not support the Government’s Internal Markets Bill, which broke sections of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement (News, 18 September).
In her new post, Ms Bruce will involve liaison with the UK Freedom of Religion and Belief Forum, led by Bishop Mounstephen (News,10 July). The Bishop led a review for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the UK’s support for persecuted Christians. The position of special envoy includes implementing the recommendations of that review, such as playing a leading role in protecting minority-faith communities across the world (News, 8 July 2019).
Bishop Mounstephen expressed his pleasure at the appointment on Monday. The post had been a key recommendation of his review. “I look forward to working with Fiona Bruce both in pursuing the full implementation of those recommendations and in advocating for FoRB for all, without fear or favour, across the world.”
Earlier this month, Bishop Mounstephen agreed with a group of academics who argued that the right to exercise religious freedom did not entail encroaching on other human rights, such as free speech (News, 10 December).
Ms Bruce said on Sunday that she was honoured to be given the opportunity to serve as special envoy. “There is much to do, and my post will be placed at the service of some of the most vulnerable people across the world.”
She referred to the treatment of Uighur Muslims in China, Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and Yazidis in Iraq.
“These are some of the most deeply concerning issues of our generation, on which it will be a privilege to engage as special envoy, both nationally and internationally, with others similarly concerned.
“The role of special envoy for FoRB is based upon Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As a founder member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and a signatory to that APPG’s first report of 2013 — which described Article 18 as an ‘orphaned right’ — I believe it is time to bring the orphan out of the orphanage.”
On Sunday, the Coptic Archbishop Anbar Angaelos of London posted on Twitter that Ms Bruce’s appointment was “very encouraging indeed. A person of honesty and integrity who would be a strong advocate for all.”
The director of advocacy and public affairs at Open Doors UK, Dr David Landrum, called it “a timely and important appointment”. Ms Bruce was not only “very knowledgeable” about religious persecution: “she also has both a heart for religious freedom and a vision to see things change.”
The president of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Mervyn Thomas, said on Sunday that Ms Bruce was an “unwavering, courageous, and outspoken” champion.