10 December 2015, Brussels – On the occasion of International Human Rights Day, the European Platform against Religious Intolerance and Discrimination (EPRID) organized a conference at the European Parliament on “Religion, Security and Human Rights” along with Elmar Brok MEP, Chair of the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee. U.N Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Prof. Heiner Bielefeldt was among the keynote speakers.
The event was co-chaired by Andrew Lewer MEP, member of the EP Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance, and attended by MEPs and staff, diplomats, officials from EU institutions, religious leaders and human rights defenders from the EU and Asia.
EPRID board member Penelope Faulkner emphasized the timeliness of the event: “At a time when religion is becoming the focus of discourses on the security of states, it is fundamental to ensure that the concept of the freedom of religion or belief is correctly understood and that its importance is not downplayed.”
Rachel Bayani, who moderated the event on behalf of EPRID, said in her opening remarks that “At the heart of the work of EPRID lies the understanding that human conscience distinguishes itself through the possibility to search for meaning, and as such to hold a belief of one’s choosing. We believe that without this possibility, the capacity inherent in each individual cannot find expression and that as a result any society-building process is hampered.”
Prof. Heiner Bielefeldt stressed that the issue was not “religious violence” but “violence committed in the name of religion”. “It is a dangerous misconception to assume that violence stems from the centre of the religious beliefs themselves. There is a connection between violence and religion. But this connection is brought about by human beings.” He added that certain political environments provide fertile grounds for such expressions of violence and that trust building at the level of public institutions and communication are among the key steps that need to be taken to counter such violence.
Dr. Kishan Manocha, OSCE/ODIHR Senior Adviser on Freedom of Religion and Belief underlined that “Within the OSCE, the Freedom of Religion or Belief (FORB) is conceived in very dynamic terms. It’s broad, it’s rich, it should not to be understood as a concession by States, as an “act of mercy” on the part of states… FoRB is not to be advanced in isolation, it must be advanced alongside all other human rights. Advancing all human rights together is part of the OSCE’s holistic approach to ensuring human security.”
Prof. Cole Durham, Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies of Brigham Young University, USA, drew attention to the limits of security policies saying that “No security policy can ultimately be effective if it does not take freedom of religion or belief into account. Because religious convictions are among the few things that people care about more than life itself. Thus, unless situations can be defused with assurances that people can live their beliefs in peace, there is little hope for achieving lasting peace, stability and security”.
Ms. Kalpna Devi, a human rights defender from Pakistan, described her own experiences as a Hindu, a woman and a lawyer: “They came to my house with kerosene and matches. They said, “Burn her, she is the head of the Hindu community, so she has no right to live here… People come to burn us, to point their fingers at us simply because we are a minority”.
Dr. Liviu Oleanu, Secretary General of the International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty (AIDLR) and EPRID member asked the audience to observe one minute of silence for the victims of recent acts of violence. He asked “what should prevail, freedom or security? I say that both freedom and security should prevail. National security is often used as a pretext to suppress religious minorities, dissidents and political opponents”.
EPRID is a network of civil society organisations, including religious and non-religious associations that aims to contribute to the collective promotion and protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief in the world as defined by Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Member Organizations: Association internationale pour la défense de la liberté religieuse / Baha’i International Community / CEJI – A Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe / Christian Solidarity Worldwide / Conference of European Churches / European Evangelical Alliance / European Union Office of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints / Global Human Rights Defence / Human Rights Without Frontiers / Open Doors International / Quê Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam – International Buddhist Information Bureau