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27 Nations Join in Alliance to Protect Religious Freedom

February 07, 2020. Grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

On February 5, 2020, Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, The Gambia, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Senegal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Togo, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom, joined the United States to create the first-of-its-kind International Religious Freedom Alliance. Together, the nations have pledged to uphold the Declaration of Principles, solidifying a collective commitment to object and oppose, publicly and privately, all abuses or violations of religious freedom.

The formation of the Alliance marks the first time in history an international coalition has come together at a national leadership level to push the issue of religious freedom forward around the world. Egregious perpetrators of religious persecution have long operated with impunity. The Alliance will unify powerful nations and leverage their resources to stop bad actors and advocate for the persecuted, the defenseless, and the vulnerable. The threats to religious freedom are global. They require global participation and global solutions.

The Alliance is grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, dedicated to working for the right of every man and woman to believe in whatever they wish, to change faith, or hold no faith if their conscience dictates.

Everyone has a role in the fight to advance religious freedom. Together, with common purpose and clear vision, we can fight to ensure that future generations everywhere enjoy a world where religious freedom is protected and advanced.

Principles of Action by the Alliance

The Alliance is founded upon the international principle of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), drawn from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (1981 UN Declaration), and other documents like the EU Guidelines on FoRB and the OSCE Guidelines on FoRB and Security. Therefore, action to promote freedom of religion or belief is based on the principle that human rights are universal, interdependent and interrelated. The actions of the Alliance are intended to complement existing work to promote freedom of religion or belief within the United Nations and other competent multilateral and regional organizations.

Alliance Commitments

  1. Members are committed to upholding their state obligations under international law in general and the ICCPR specifically relating to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief, including the right to hold any faith or belief, or none at all, and the freedom to change faith.
  2. Members are committed to pursuing an inclusive approach, including cross-regional engagement.
  3. Members are committed to being consultative, co-ordinated, and voluntary.
  4. Members are committed to pursuing internal-external coherence on matters relating to freedom of religion or belief.
  5. Members are committed to taking a human rights-based approach to advancing FoRB, and to promoting other human rights indispensable for the full enjoyment of the freedom of religion or belief.

Priority Areas of Action

I. Reactive Measures

a. Alliance members are committed to condemning violence (and incitement of violence) against persons based on religion or belief and against religious sites, either by state or by non-state actors, and demanding perpetrators be held to account.

b. Alliance members are committed to challenging persistent violations and abuses of the right to manifest one’s religion or belief, including abuses of the rights listed in the 1981 UN Declaration, the use of blasphemy laws and the denial of registration to religious or non-religious groups, and are committed to seeking to persuade states to conform to international obligations and commitments.

c. Alliance members are committed to opposing restrictions on the freedom to change one’s religion or belief, or to hold no belief, and to demonstrating solidarity with person or persons victimised by such restrictions.

d. Alliance members are committed to advocating on behalf of individuals who are imprisoned or in other ways persecuted on account of their religion or belief and promoting accountability against perpetrators.

e. Alliance members are committed to rejecting discrimination on account of religion or belief in access to justice, education, housing, or employment, and to promoting measures to address such discrimination.

II. Proactive Measures

a. Alliance members are committed to promoting respect for diversity, tolerance and inclusion consistent with the Istanbul Process.

b. Alliance members are committed to supporting protection for religious or belief sites from violence.

c. Alliance members are committed to supporting and engaging with civil society, including religious and belief communities, and religious leaders, and to promoting cross-boundary and multi-disciplinary networking of those groups and individuals.

d. Alliance members are committed to promoting literacy on freedom of religion or belief and relevant human rights frameworks.

e. Alliance members are committed to promoting freedom of religion or belief together with other human rights, such as freedom of expression.

III. Potential Instruments of Action

a. Regular monitoring, reporting, information-sharing and outreach to impacted individuals and faith communities.

b. Joint or co-ordinated bilateral demarches and public diplomacy.

c. Promotion of interfaith dialogue to solve problems and promote greater inter- and intra-religious understanding.

d. Support for victims, such as through redress, resettlement, or other actions as appropriate.

e. Targeted sanctions against perpetrators as appropriate.

f. Co-ordinated action using multilateral fora (e.g. joint statements, UN country resolutions, and UN mechanisms like the Universal Periodic Review) and support for the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

g. Cooperating with civil society organizations, religious communities, and parliamentary networks committed to advancing freedom of religion or belief.

h. Training of law enforcement officials, building the capacity of national human rights institutions, and cooperating with civil society.

i. Investment in projects to protect space for civic engagement by assisting human rights defenders and victims of persecution, as well as to build societal resilience (e.g. education on the benefits of diversity and religious tolerance, as well as cross-faith development projects).