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Pressure on Brussels
 

Freedom of religion needs to be key factor in EU partnerships, say MEPs

MEPs ask the EU to clearly promote freedom of belief in its external action. European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion and Belief introduced its first annual report on the state of religion in the world.

AUTHOR Joëlle Philippe BRUSSELS 05 JUNE 2015 11:07 h GMT+1
European Parliament, Brussels Photo: Barros A. (Flickr, CC).

Bad times for freedom of religion, or so shows the first annual report on the state of religion or belief in the world, presented in the European Parliament last Wednesday 3rd of June.



The EP Intergroup on Freedom of Religion and Belief explained they were “concerned” about the situation of Freedom of Belief in the world.



In the final remarks of the report, the Intergroup asks “Peace and freedom? We do not need EU monitoring system to show us, they don’t exist”.



They however have this “dream” of ensuring that the EU, “in its external actions, promotes freedom of religion or belief” as a universal human right, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.



The MEPs, from different religious and non-religious backgrounds, want to encourage tolerance and respect for all religions, while insisting on the fact that “religion is a factor you have to take into account” when working in Foreign Policy.



The Intergroup on FoRB has been meeting informally until its establishment in January 2015.



 



“BE MORE CRITICAL WHEN DOING PARTNERSHIPS”



The co-president, Mr. Dennis de Jong, introduced the annual report by presenting some examples of violations and intolerance from the main religions, such as Buddhists in Burma and Sri Lanka, Daesh, Christians’ intolerance and burning churches in Democratic Republic of Congo, Hindus’ intolerance against Muslim Rohingya or even the “increasing secular challenge to religious expression in public”.



The report is divided in two parts, the first being the description of countries in which freedom of religion is violated and the second, a list of recommendations for EU foreign policy agents. “It is worth reconsidering [EU] policy”, said Mr. de Jong adding that EU institutions “should be more critical when doing partnerships: human rights should be taken seriously”.



 



REAL COMPENTECES TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE



The question rises, however, on how efficient and influent can a European Parliament report such as this be to the other European institutions that have real competence in EU foreign policy, like the European External Action Service (EEAS). In the room, a representative from an NGO asked why Vietnam did not appear in the report, since there have been prosecutions of Buddhists and the EU is currently negotiating a trade agreement with the South Asian country.



From the EEAS, Mr. Silvio Gonzato, Director of the Human Rights and Democracy, declared that the EEAS was open to start a dialog on the recommendations from the report. He also made some remarks and illustrated briefly the work of the EEAS on Freedom of Religion, such as election surveillance, cooperation at regional level or local workshops.



He stressed the importance to back-up civil society efforts in reconciliation between communities and pointed out that “religious leaders can play a vital role in the counter narrative against fundamentalism”.



Mr. Gonzato explained that bad governance, corruption and failure of the state are a “very fertile ground” for sectarianism and fundamentalism. Encouraging the rule of law and helping these governments develop is an indirect way to prevent violations of freedom of religion. There was, however, some debate over the guidelines for external action on freedom of belief (2013) but Mr. Gonzato said that the “effectiveness of the tools depends also on the partner on the other side”.



 



ACTION NEEDED INSIDE OF EUROPE?



The event was done in collaboration with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) which also does an annual report and categorizes countries according to their freedom of religion or belief. The chair, Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, greeted this “unprecedented meeting”, as it was the first time the group and the commission did an event together, and said it represented “a single voice that more must be done for freedom of religion”.



During the time of questions or remarks, some MEPs and other attending the presentation of the report, asked about persecution and oppression in Europe for people of faith. Mr. Peter Van Dalen, co-president of the group, insisted on the focus of freedom of belief outside of the EU. 


 

 


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