Commonwealth leaders in London for the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, meet at Lambeth Palace to discuss how to strengthen religious freedom in their countries. Also this week, Lord Suri is asking the Foreign Office to invest more resources to coordinate, oversee and deliver policy to advance freedom of religion and belief.
Professor Paul Weller, specialising in issues of religious freedom, discrimination and equality at the Universities of Derby and Coventry:
In recent years, both through the FCO and in other ways, the government has paid increasing attention to issues of freedom of religion or belief. This has been both to religious freedom in its own right, and also in relation to other important global challenges such as ‘radicalisation’ and, more recently, social and economic development. The call from the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Commonwealth to pay greater attention to how religious freedom might be strengthened is both welcome and opportune in the context of renewed UK government interest in the Commonwealth. For example, the Pew Research Centre’s latest index about government restrictions (i.e. laws, policies or actions) on religious freedom cites Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei as Commonwealth countries with ‘very high’ restrictions on religious freedom; while Pakistan, India and Bangladesh are among other Commonwealth countries identified as having ‘high’ restrictions.
Lord Suri of Ealing, member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion of Belief:
The Government has made a very welcome commitment to protect Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB). However, there are very few staff working on FoRB in the FCO. I believe that to reflect the Government’s publicly stated commitment to FoRB, the FCO requires a senior level position to coordinate and practically advance this fundamental human right. More resources would support the FCO to develop and implement country-level strategies for advancing FoRB. They would also aid the adoption of the recommendations of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International FoRB’s most recent report – ‘Article 18: From Rhetoric to Reality’.
I am aware that too many people around the world, both within and without the Commonwealth, are persecuted, often violently, for their peacefully held beliefs. I am very pleased, therefore, that this issue is receiving prominence through the Archbishop of Canterbury’s event this week. It reflects a growing, and long overdue interest in FoRB in the UK and internationally.
Brian Grim, President Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, Chair World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Role of Faith (2015-16), Research Associate, Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs at Boston University:
The events of September 11, 2001 and those that followed, radically changed the way people look at the world and understand religious freedom. It has shifted from the 20th Century paradigm that focused primarily on the types of government restrictions seen in communist countries such as China and the former Soviet Union to a 21st Century paradigm that recognizes that the actions of groups in society can affect religious freedom as much and perhaps even more than the actions of governments. This fact calls for new and innovative civil society and public sector strategies to address religious bigotry and prejudice. Research clearly shows that religious freedom is good for business and sustainable development. It is in the interests of the business community to join forces with government and non-government organizations in promoting respect for freedom of religion or belief.