Intergroup Press release: Launch of Freedom of Religion or Belief Interim Report

Human rights ought to be a fundamental issue, particularly for the EU

The EU should stand firm for universal human rights, particularly in its foreign policy, according to the cross-party Intergroup for Freedom of Religion or Belief. Its co-chairs, the MEP Dennis de Jong (SP) and MEP Peter van Dalen (CU-SGP) are worried by the pressure that human rights face globally, both in the global West under threats of terrorism and in the rest of the world due to extremist interpretations and practise of religion.

Dennis de Jong: “We cannot let economic interests prevail over human rights every single time. It is not a question of a tradeoff between the one and the other.” Together the Dutch MEPs present their interim report on freedom of religion or belief and European external policy. The conclusions are explicit: the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) need to do a lot more, in order to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights in external actions. However, the political will is lacking.

That political will is important, especially as populations are becoming evermore polarised as a result of terrorism. Stavros Lambrinidis, EU Special Representative for Human Rights: “We shall not be divided by extremism. Terrorists want us divided – they cannot stand religious tolerance. The best weapon against terrorism is freedom of religion and belief.” Traditional allies are letting the EU down in this fight: the situation in the US, Turkey and Russia is not looking particular rosy. van Dalen: “It is the task of states to protect religious or secular minorities against persecution, such as the case of the Governor of Jakarta in Indonesia, or freedom of speech activists in Saudi Arabia .” Jan Figel, EU Special Envoy on the protection and promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside of the EU: “Freedom of religion or belief is the litmus test of human rights. A simple way to measure freedoms is to look at how the minority in any given country is treated. In any country where freedom prevails, minorities are treated well by the majority”.

Intergroup Bureau Member MEP Miltiadis Kyrkos further called for “a united cross-institutional voice on recognising the needs to address Freedom of religion or belief violations outside of the EU but also as part of our internal refugee and integration policy”.

The co-chairs of the Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) are calling for a full report on the implementation of the EU Guidelines on FoRB by the European Commission and the EEAS, to make it possible to monitor the progress of the EU in ensuring that they are implemented.

There is no use in a stand-off between trade interests and human rights, there need to be concrete action points that countries have to adhere to. De Jong: “Pierce the hypocritical practices of governments. Pleasant words do not equal sincere action.” Also, grassroots organisations, and individuals must be at the centre of all efforts, Mariam Ibrahim, guest speaker at the event said “my story is not unique – there are thousands of people who suffer for their faith everyday. When you look at me see war, think of all those who have lost loved ones in all terrorist operations in the world. I am every Christian that fears for their family or who has watched his family or his children destroyed …” MEP van Dalen concurred: “Reports are important, and it is necessary to hold governments to account, but whilst we are doing that, we must never forget the individuals, the men, women and children who suffer every day. They are the people that we must think of.”.

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