Minister supports the launch of Conservative Party Human Rights Commission's new report on international religious freedom

07 June 2011

Widespread violations of religious freedom around the world are documented in a new report by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission released today. The Freedom to Believe: Protecting and Promoting Article 18 draws on evidence received in two oral hearings and various written submissions from human rights groups and religious communities, detailing serious violations of religious freedom.

“In too many countries around the world freedom of religion and belief is not respected, and religious believers and minorities face discrimination, restrictions and persecution,” the report notes.

The Conservative Party Human Rights Commission’s report recommends that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition Government appoint a special envoy for international freedom of religion and belief in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and re-establish an FCO Freedom of Religion Panel to advise the Government on violations of religious freedom and methods of promoting religious freedom.

Alistair Burt MP, Minister for the Middle East and South Asia, says ‘I am grateful to the Conservative Human Rights Commission for the opportunity to read the new report, The Freedom to Believe: Protecting and Promoting Article 18 on religious freedom across the world, and to send my warm regards for a very successful re-launch of a Commission that has taken on board some of the tougher issues that face us both as a people and a Government, and has ensured that voices have been heard to inform and shape our policy and decision making.

“This report touches once again on the more uncomfortable sides of our world, and looks at countries where belief and religion are often used as tools of oppression and control. This area of discussion is something that we at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are keen to pursue and will be looking at further in the forthcoming months.

“I commend the CHRC for their work and diligence in continuing to raise issues that may well affront us on occasions, but discussion of which are vital in encouraging human rights for all people.”

The report highlights the widespread persecution of Christians in at least 60 countries around the world, and draws particular attention to violations in Eritrea, where between 2,000 and 3,000 Christians are detained without charge or trial. It also highlights violence against Christians in Nigeria, anti-conversion laws in India and Sri Lanka, the impact of Shari’a law, blasphemy laws and the dangers for apostates.

The Conservative Party Human Rights Commission received evidence of violations of religious freedom against the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Pakistan, who are described by a spokesman as “excluded, disenfranchised and persecuted”. Ahmadis in Pakistan are forbidden by law to call their places of worship ‘mosques’ or use Islamic greetings, and are denied a vote. They are subjected to regular intimidation and violence.

The plight of the Baha’is in Iran, Falun Gong in China, Buddhists in Tibet and the Rohingya Muslims in Burma is also detailed, as are concerns over religious freedom in Europe. The Conservative Party Human Rights Commission heard first-hand evidence from representatives of these communities in its oral evidence sessions, as well as from human rights groups Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Christian Solidarity Worldwide. Concerns over the UN’s resolutions on defamation of religions were detailed in a written submission by Open Doors.

Robert Buckland MP, the new Chairman of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, said: “Freedom of religion and belief, which includes the freedom not to believe, is a fundamental human right. It is very clear from the evidence received by the Commission that in much of the world, this basic freedom does not exist or is severely undermined and restricted.

“This report, resulting from an extensive inquiry, is an important piece of work and we hope the Government will take our recommendations seriously, and make it a priority to promote and protect the values of religious freedom as set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”