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Truss backs drive for Foreign Office to take religious persecution more seriously

04 July 2022


The Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, speaking in the House of Commons last week

The Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, speaking in the House of Commons last week

THE Government’s support for persecuted believers is improving, an independent review has concluded.

Five public-law academics undertook to review the implementation of recommendations contained in the report on the persecution of Christians and others around the world produced in 2019 by the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen.

In a statement on Monday, the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, said: “We welcome and accept this expert review on progress and . . . accept their assessment for the need to continue to work to promote and strengthen Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) as a fundamental human right for all.

“Our work on this important human rights issue will never be complete, and we will continue to champion global efforts on FoRB,” she added.

Bishop Mounstephen welcomed Ms Truss’ statement, and said: “She is absolutely right to stress the need to continue to work to promote and strengthen FoRB as a fundamental human right for all.

“Much has been done,” Bishop Mounstephen said, “but the situation is getting worse not better, so this recommitment by her to press on in championing FoRB for all is very welcome.”

Both Ms Truss and Bishop Mounstephen are expected to address the Ministerial Conference on FoRB taking place in central London this week.

The review’s authors note that the implementation of the recommendations was hampered by, first, the pandemic, and then the redeployment of Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) staff to help respond to the outbreak of the war in Ukraine.

The first of the recommendations in the Truro report was to ensure that FoRB was made “central” to the “operation and culture” of the Foreign Office. The assessment published on Monday judges that this is “in the process of being delivered”.

The UK’s part in establishing the International Religion and Belief Alliance (IRFBA) in 2020 is highlighted in the assessment. The current chair of IRFBA is the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on FoRB, Fiona Bruce MP.

Another of Bishop Mounstephen’s recommendations was to develop a “Scale of Persecution” for violations of FoRB. This, the assessors note, has been achieved, though “there appears to be limited evidence of its use operationally, which indicates that further efforts to increase engagement with this tool, particularly to clarify its purpose, is necessary.”

The Truro report also called on the Foreign Office to lead “cross-government action in support of the UN International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief”, held on 22 August every year. This, the assessment judges, is “in the process of being delivered”.

The implementation of mechanisms to respond to FoRB atrocities, and the establishment of early-warning systems to identify situations in which there is a risk of such atrocities occurring, is also being delivered, the assessment finds.

Delegates to the FoRB conference are set to discuss early-warning systems on Tuesday afternoon.

One recommendation that has not been delivered is that “the phenomenon of Christian discrimination and persecution” be named. Suggestions that the term “Christophobia” be used, as an equivalent to “Islamophobia”.

The assessment notes that the Foreign Office engaged in a consultation on this point, with various stakeholders, but no consensus was reached. The Foreign Office’s position remains, however, that “if the Christian community agrees on a term, then its use will be seriously considered.”

While generally positive, the assessment notes that there “remains scope for further developments in order to ensure that the protection of FoRB for all becomes firmly embedded in the operational approach of the FCDO as a whole”, including more structured engagement with stakeholders.

The full review can be read here.

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