The EU’s new special envoy for freedom of religion or belief, Christos Stylianedes, visited the Danish Institute for Human Rights in Copenhagen on Friday, August 27, where he met with representatives from 10 faith-based based and civil society organizations that work in the field of freedom of religion or belief. He asked for their advice on how the EU can strengthen the work on freedom of religion or belief beyond Europe’s borders. Here are CKU’s 10 recommendations for the special envoy.
1) The work for protection and promotion of freedom of religion or belief should be human rights based.
Freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) protects the human right to believe, not to believe or to change faiths. The work concerning freedom of religion or belief is, therefore, not only about dialogue, tolerance, and acceptance, but about the fundamental human right to believe and think as each of us wants. This right is based on article 18 of the internationally recognized Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
2) Freedom of religion or belief should be promoted as part of the other generally recognized human rights.
One person’s right to freedom of religion or belief should not infringe on another person’s right to freedom of religion or belief, or their right to be treated equally as women, sexual minorities, or the like. The work on freedom of religion or belief must form part of a coordinated effort to ensure that all human rights are respected.
3) Freedom of religion or belief is a human right that first and foremost protects people, not the religions themselves.
Freedom of religion or belief does not protect Christianity, Islam, or other religions or belief systems. It protects everyone’s individual, inalienable right to freedom of thought and conscience, as we believe it to be. It is from this fundamental right that freedom of religion or belief manifests. Furthermore, freedom of religion or belief is not the same as saying that religious thinking must not be criticized or challenged.
4) Religious leaders are important actors and moral duty bearers
When talking about human rights the terms “right holders” and “duty bearers” are often mentioned. Meaning, there are those who have rights and those who have the responsibility to uphold and ensure other people’s rights. Religious leaders have a special responsibility and an obligation to make freedom of religion or belief accessible to all, including religious groups or identities that are different than those they themselves represent.
5) Representatives from organizations other than faith-based organizations should also be included in the work to promote freedom of religion or belief.
Freedom of religion or belief cannot be achieved through cooperating with religious leaders or institutions alone. A wide range of civil society organizations must also be considered as vital collaborators. In general, the agenda must be set in an interreligious and interbelief space.
6) Coordinating between member states and EU-representatives.
The cooperation between member states’ embassies and EU representations in the protection and promotion of freedom of religion or belief must be strengthened. For example, through meetings with representatives from civil society and faithbased organizations.
7) Freedom of religion or belief should be included when the EU enters into trade agreements with countries outside of Europe.
Economic incentives can be extremely useful in getting some countries outside the European Union talking. Therefore, respect for the protection of freedom of religion or belief must be included as a requirement for the conclusion of trade agreements.
8) Special violators of freedom of religion or belief should be targeted with sanctions and banned from entering the EU.
When foreign rulers are failing in their responsibility to guarantee freedom of religion or belief, then they along with their immediate family members must be deprived of the possibility of both gaining entry to and receiving an education in the European Union. In addition, any of the finances they have within the EU must be frozen. The legislation for this is in place in the EU, but it can be used more actively.
9) Freedom of religion or belief should exist as both a targeted and cross-cutting priority within the EU’s development work.
Efforts on freedom of religion or belief must take place both in projects aimed at safeguarding freedom of religion or belief in a particular context and as part of projects within the greater context of human rights. For example, aspects of faith and religious freedom can be included in projects which are primally intended to ensure equality between men and women, peace and reconciliation, and access to education and healthcare.
10) Good intentions must be followed by funding opportunities.
Freedom of religion or belief is under pressure in large parts of the world. If we are to succeed in counteracting this, then funding must be secured. It is vital to launch projects that help support freedom of religion or belief around the world where the need is greatest, while ensuring that we continue to have access to the most important knowledge and research in this area.
The main task of the EU Special Envoy is thus to ensure that all EU institutions, representations, and member states work towards a thorough implementation of 2013 EU Guidelines on the Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief.