THE United Nations Security Council has voted unanimously to adopt a resolution on freedom of religion put forward by the UK and Emirati governments.
The move fulfils one of the recommendations made by the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, in his report on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), published in 2019 (News, 8 July 2019).
Bishop Mounstephen had recommended that the Government use the UK’s position on the Council to push for a resolution on FoRB, calling specifically for the protection of Christians and other faith minorities in the Middle East.
The UK and the United Arab Emirates put forward a resolution at a meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday of last week, “strongly deploring all acts of violence against persons on the basis of their religion or belief and such acts directed against their places of worship, as well as all attacks on and in religious places”.
While the resolution lacks the specificity that Bishop Mounstephen sought, he said that he was “delighted by this news of the implementation of one of the key recommendations of the Truro Review — especially in the light of the fact that last year it was deemed unlikely that any Security Council Resolution on Freedom of Religion or Belief would be possible.”
The Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt, who commissioned the report when he was Foreign Secretary, said: “I’m proud and delighted to see this key recommendation of Bishop Philip’s report implemented and send my warm congratulations to the UK team at the UN on their very impressive work. The action taken by the British government is the first time a Security Council Resolution has been passed on Freedom of Religion or Belief.”
Before the vote, the UK’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, James Kariuki, told the Council: “Freedom of religion or belief, including the freedom not to have a religion, is a fundamental human right.”
He said that the UN could do more to protect religious minorities who faced persecution. “We should assure we have the tools in place for horizon-scanning to address incitement and extremist rhetoric before it tips over into violence.”
Mr Kariuki also said that faith groups could advocate for “interreligious and intercultural dialogue”, which “can help build trust and understanding between communities, and combat intolerance”.
He referred to an address to the Council by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2018 (News, 31 August 2018). Archbishop Welby had emphasised the importance of reconciliation in preventing violence, as well as creating peace, and said that religious institutions were “often the only functioning institutions in a fragile or pre-conflict situation”.
Mr Kariuki also drew attention to the leadership of women in peacebuilding endeavours, and concluded that “attempts to tackle intolerance will not be successful if they don’t prioritise inclusivity, equality, and safeguard freedom of expression and opinion”.
The Security Council voted to adopt the resolution, which expresses “deep concern at instances of discrimination, intolerance and extremism”, and welcomes “efforts by religious leaders to promote interreligious dialogue and understanding”.
As a result of the resolution, the Security-General has been requested to report on FoRB and how it links to international peacebuilding, and to provide an oral briefing to the Council on the subject within a year.
The full text of the resolution on “Tolerance and International Peace and Security” can be read here.