On 26 September, EPRID hosted its first ever OSCE Human Dimension Implementation meeting 2016 side event in partnership with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). The theme of the event was Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) in the OSCE region and the discussants raised some of the contemporary challenges and best practices in this area.
Dr Susan Kerr opened the event on behalf of EPRID, outlining the objectives of the platform and setting the tone in light of discussions on the commensurability of security and FoRB and stating that there is no sustainable security without a respect of human beings and their human rights. Sue Breeze, from the FCO, then chaired the rest of the event to discuss what the UK is doing in the area of FoRB.
Dr. Kishan Manocha, Senior Advisor on FoRB at the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) pointed out that the increasing pluralization of religion across the OSCE region brings about a complexity that is unprecedented. He remarked that “while in the past social cohesion was grounded in religious homogeneity, it now has to be grounded in religious plurality”. He expressed concern about the growing trend that suggests to bend the right to FoRB in order to protect security and identity, hence undermining its universal nature and placing it further down in the hierarchy of rights than security.
The keynote speaker, Prof. Heiner Bielefeldt, United Nations Special Rapporteur on FoRB, focused upon two key contemporary challenges to FoRB: patterns of control and national identity. He observed that often state control is exercised for the sake of control against groups that are peaceful and definitely not a “security risk” in the true sense of these words, stating that “nothing can increase the control element of the state more than creating fear and mobilizing that fear”. On identity, he noted that a return to “my territory, my religion”, (alluding to the Peace of Westphalia), and “possessive pronouns” linked to national identity can be dangerous if members of a religious majority buy into this idea which undermines plurality. Prof. Bielefeldt also emphasized that it is important to support majority voices speaking out for FoRB for all and that these voices are needed to protect social cohesion.
The event was followed by lively discussions and EPRID thanks its cohost and the panelists for making the event such a success.