November 2, 2015
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In the month of October, UNPO put a spotlight on freedom of religion and belief (FRoB) as a broad and inclusive human right; a right which for many UNPO members seems an unattainable privilege. Unable to think or believe as they please openly, peacefully and without fear, their right to FRoB is continuously under threat in some parts of the world, causing their respective communities great suffering. But why does freedom of religion matter and what can the EU and human rights advocates do to protect it?
Two events in particular addressed these questions. The first was held on 21 October 2015 and hosted by Peter van Dalen MEP (ECR), the European Parliament Intergroup on FRoB and Religious Intolerance and Christian Solidarity Worldwide. Speaking at the event, Ms Iva Petkovic, UNPO Program Coordinator, noted that a positive step forward would be to make EU-China talks more transparent and open, so that the citizens of China and EU Member States can hold their leaders accountable. In addition, it is vital for EU leaders to continue to work with exiled and diaspora activists, particularly for cases, such as China, since the country prohibits activists from leaving the country and traveling to Geneva and Brussels.
“Meeting activists and leaders of oppressed communities – officially and publically – and making public statements on the topics of concern can provide hope that there is international solidarity for their struggles. And hope is a powerful tool in achieving positive social and political change.”
From 22-24 October, UNPO and the World Uyghur Congress convened a high-level conference in Brussels entitled “In Defense of Religious Freedom: The Uyghur Struggle For Human Rights”, hosted by Ms Izaskun Bilbao Barandica MEP (ALDE). The conference shed light on the current human rights situation in East Turkestan, emphasized the importance of preserving religious freedom in China and reached new conclusions about how to protect it.
First, more reliable and accurate information is needed in order to ensure that human rights violations are known and condemned. Second, the powerful Chinese communication strategy of demonizing and isolating Uyghurs must be deconstructed. Third, international institutions and human rights organizations must continue to vigorously raise the voice of silenced and oppressed religious minorities. Fourth, diplomacy should be used as a constructive tool for dialogue, cooperation and finding mutually advantageous solutions. Fifth, religious freedom should be reframed from a human rights perspective, rather than as a question of regional or national security; religion must be de-militarized.
Considering that freedom of religion or belief is a part of EU’s vision to promote peace, democracy and human rights, enshrined in Articles 2 and 21 of the Treaty of the European Union and in article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, UNPO will continue to advocate for the EU to play an ever greater role in the promotion of a simple idea: no government has the right to compel others to act against their conscience, religion or belief when it is exercised peacefully.
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