Freedom of religion or belief is a litmus test of civil and political rights

by Jan Figel, Special Envoy for freedom of religion or belief outside the EU

Recent bloody attack in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand with 50 dead and over 50 injured was a reminder to the world that religious minorities are objects of attacks and persecution worldwide.  These attacks are either sudden, fanatical and demonstrative or long-term and systematic. Their source is either racial or religious hatred by diverse extremist groups or social intolerance or state run discrimination, even persecution. 

Forms vary from lynching (e.g. Muslims and Christians in India) through brutal killings (Rohingiyas in Myanmar, Christians, Siks and Ahmadis in Pakistan), terrorism (against Christians and Muslims in Middle East, Egypt, Nigeria, Somalia, Afghanistan), up to state driven persecution of believers (North Korea, China, Vietnam).

According to reliable data the situation is critical: almost three quarters of the global population are living under high or very high restrictions of religious freedom. And this ratio keeps growing. The situation is a wake-up call to raise awareness, to take serious policy actions and to make a substantial change, similarly to what was done with alarming trends in global warming.

Freedom of religion or belief is a litmus test of civil and political rights. When it is not respected, other human rights are not guaranteed either. Therefore, it covers freedom of thought, conscience and faith and it is the deepest expression of personal freedom and of human dignity. This was one of the reasons why in December 2018 at the 70th anniversary of adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a group of FoRB experts and professors formulated the Declaration on Human Dignity for Everyone Everywhere and offered this to the international community (www.dignityforeveryone.org). Signatories of the Punta del Este document expressed not only their commemoration of the UDHR as the key document of current international relations, but also renewed their commitment to support fundamental and universal human rights because these are frequently questioned if not denied. The declaration during the jubilee year is open for all who consider human dignity to be the founding principle and the base of human rights. It also aims at being both an objective and a criterion of policies and measures in all domains of public life.

We are all different in identity, nobody is a copy of anybody. Each of us is authentic and unique original. And at the same time we are all equal in dignity. Nobody is more and nobody is less in dignity, whether he or she comes from a homeless family or from a royal one. Dignity is inviolable and undeniable.

We have dignity and therefore we are right holders and duty bearers. Rights and duties are two sides of one coin. And the same applies to freedom and responsibility. Mature politics oriented to the common good – local, regional, national, European or international one – must keep dignity of each human person at the centre of its service.

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