The APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief have published their 2019 Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief. It is the second time this report has been provided, alongside other publicly available information, to support both Posts and country desks in the Foreign Office to assess actual and potential FoRB violations and to formulate, implement and evaluate appropriate responses.
The Introduction states that reliable, detailed, evidence-based monitoring and analysis of FoRB violations is essential for formulating, implementing and evaluating realistic policies and actions to address FoRB and interlinked human rights violations. Expertise in both FoRB and country contexts is necessary to accurately monitor and analyse FoRB violations. Expertise is also required to navigate some actors’ minimisation or denial of FoRB violations. With limited resources, the FCO can struggle to internally find the expertise essential for accurate assessments. The FCO FoRB Toolkit requires internal assessments to use non-FCO sources including ‘the reports of civil society and other organisations,’ which includes this APPG.
The APPG and its stakeholder organisations would strongly welcome a partnership in the accurate monitoring and analysis of FoRB violations that the Toolkit requires of posts. Such a partnership could enhance HMG and Parliament’s knowledge about vulnerable groups who are at risk or who may require urgent assistance. It could also warn when these groups might be harmed by public comment on their situation.
The Foreword, written by Dr Ahmed Shaheed, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Dr Nazila Ghanea, Associate Professor of International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford and Sir Malcolm Evans, Professor of International Law at Bristol University, states that violations of the right to Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) are a truly global and growing phenomenon. Indeed, data suggests that 83% of the world’s population live in countries with severe Governmental and/or societal restrictions on the right to Freedom of Religion or Belief. Studies that have monitored global trends over the past decade note that the number of countries that violate FoRB rights has been rising significantly.
It continues all of humanity has to face the challenge of increasing violations of FoRB, there is not one type of victim or perpetrator, and the scale and frequency of these attacks highlight the terrible danger that intolerance towards others and their beliefs poses to societies everywhere. The attacks suffered by victims in these contexts go far beyond violations to FoRB and stretch to violations of a wide range of human rights including the rights to life, liberty and security of person.
Despite the scale and severity of the problem, thus far political responses have been muted. There have, however, recently been positive moves which indicate that Governments are starting to take this issue more seriously, such as the US Ministerial on Religious Freedom, the growth in the number of dedicated ambassadors or special envoys for FoRB, the observance of 27 October as international FoRB day, and the designation by the United Nations General Assembly of 22 August as the international day to commemorate the victims of acts of violence based on their religion or belief.
The authors quote their joint letter to the Sunday Telegraph on 10 February 2019:
“Seeking to protect some from persecution necessarily requires seeking to protect all from persecution. Upholding full enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief (which includes the freedom of worship) would enhance its enjoyment by all, whether believer, non-believer or ambivalent. Britain can rightly draw attention to the inclusive nature of its diplomacy in advancing this freedom over many years. This is an opportunity for redoubling and reinforcing these efforts in the light of increasingly abhorrent violations.”
They conclude As reliable, detailed information is vital to developing and implementing effective policies to promote FoRB, we encourage the UK Government to make use of this report. We also encourage the UK to adopt the recommendations the report outlines regarding making more use of the FCO’s own excellent FoRB toolkit, as there is a significant lack of engagement with the toolkit across the FCO network. Making use of the toolkit and this excellent report will significantly support the UK Government’s efforts to promote FoRB. We commend this report to all those who serve in the UK government and elsewhere in defence of human rights.
The report also highlights a number of recommendations:
1. That FCO posts further implement the FCO FoRB toolkit as a normal part of their work.
2. That the FCO in London continues to encourage, support and monitor posts’ implementation of the FCO FoRB toolkit’s recommendations.
3. That, building on the welcome appointment of a Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief by two successive Prime Ministers, this post be made a permanent role.
4. That the commitment that the International Roving Ambassador for Human Rights will work with the Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief is expressed in visible public activity at the United Nations, including the Human Rights Council, as well as elsewhere including with FCO posts worldwide.
5. That FCO posts actively engage with the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief by proactively seeking ways that they can concretely advance freedom of religion and belief in country, as well as monitoring the Special Envoy’s work on social media.