In association with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Canadian High Commission
There is increased awareness that across the globe individuals are unable to exercise their right to the freedom of religion or belief and are discriminated against or persecuted because of their religion or belief. Indeed entire communities are facing this challenge. Yet this is a fundamental human right which is of profound significance to religious and non religious believers alike. It includes the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief, and the freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest a religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. These elements of the freedom are interdependent, interrelated and mutually reinforcing and all must be present if there is to be true Freedom of Religion or Belief.
Following on from our 2011 conference on Freedom of Religion, this conference supported the implementation of UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18.
A summary of the Key Best Practice Points and suggestions for further action follow:
- All UN Member States to submit annual reports on the actions they have taken to implement UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 in their own countries;
- There is a role for Leaders, both political and religious to speak out against incidents of incitement to violence on the basis of religion or belief without seeking necessarily to criminalise them;
- Free speech could be used positively to counter expressions of hatred;
- Advice could be sought from the OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief on legislation guaranteeing freedom of religion or belief;
- Holy Site toolkit needed drawing together existing guidelines on how to protect holy sites and places of worship, perhaps produced by OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts;
- Registration of religious groups should not be overly burdensome, restrictive or exclusive;
- Education is central in promoting inclusion and combating intolerance;
- The education of police, lawyers, journalists, etc is also key;
- The Religious Literacy Leadership Programme had run 80 workshops for other universities on religious literacy in order to reduce the negative energy around religion, leading to better quality conversations around religion and instilling confidence in handling those with no religious beliefs;
- The OSCE has prepared concise practical guidelines on the teaching of religion in public schools. The Toledo Guiding Principles were developed in order to contribute towards an improved understanding of the world’s increasing religious diversity;
- The Network of European Federations has also issued a report on Teaching about Religions in European School Systems: Policy Issues and Trends;
- Governments to be encouraged to develop more substantial dialogue with mainstream secular NGOs in defending freedom of religion or belief;
- There is a need to equip policy makers in particular on the principles, methods and tools to defend freedom of religion or belief effectively;
- Engagement with religious leaders reveals inter-faith work ongoing at a grass roots level on the basis of common principles of justice, dignity and universal human rights such as in Nigeria where Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa lead the Muslim-Christian Interfaith Mediation Centre which has set up task-forces to resolve conflicts across Nigeria.
- The UK Christian-Muslim Forum has developed guidelines for the sharing of faith without causing offence;