The European Platform on Religious Intolerance and Discrimination (EPRID) welcomes the European Parliament’s inclusion of a section on freedom of religion or belief, for the third consecutive year, in its Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy, which was adopted yesterday.

EPRID engaged with Members of the European Parliament of the Committee on Foreign Affairs by making recommendations. However, it echoes the concerns raised from within the European Parliament by Members belonging to the Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance that this section did not speak out on the religious freedom of people of all faiths or none. This is a surprising omission.

Moreover, the rejection of an amendment on the involvement of civil society in training on freedom of religion or belief was disappointing. The European Parliament claims to be the EU’s most democratic institution and civil society has long been recognised as a key partner in the democracy-building process. Civil society has also long been involved in the provision of training on freedom of religion or belief and is a valuable source of information from the field and expertise on this topic for the EU as well as for other international institutions such as the Council of Europe, the OSCE and UN.

As Penelope Faulkner of Quê Me, and member of the EPRID Board of Coordinators stated, “Religious freedom has risen up the EU agenda over the past few years. However, much still needs to be done to sensitise Europeans of the serious discrimination and violence faced by religious and belief communities in many parts of the world. Unfortunately, the European Parliament’s commitment to protecting religious or belief minorities in the world is still somewhat piecemeal.”

According to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center (PRC), the share of countries with a high or very high level of social hostilities involving religion reached a six-year peak in 2012 with religious hostilities increased in every major region of the world except the Americas. The study notes that the sharpest increase was in the Middle East and North Africa, which is still feeling the effects of the 2010-11 Arab Spring and that there also was a significant increase in religious hostilities in the Asia-Pacific region, where China edged into the “high” category for the first time.  The PRC’s 2015 data on 2013 shows that around three-quarters of the world’s population continue to live in countries with a high or very high level of restrictions on religion.

EPRID encourages the European Parliament to continue its efforts to protect communities of belief and non-belief in the world, and to strengthen and advance freedom of religion or belief for all.