Delegation of the European Union
to Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam

Statement on behalf of the EU at the Bali Democracy Forum 2016

Bali, 08/12/2016 - 10:23, UNIQUE ID: 161208_11
Statements on behalf of the EU

Statement on behalf of the European Union delivered by Ambassador Vincent Guérend, Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam

Bali Democracy Forum 8-9 December 2016:

Religion, Democracy and Pluralism


Statement on behalf of the European Union

delivered by

Ambassador Vincent Guérend

Head of the Delegation of the European Union

to Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam


I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union.

  1. The EU welcomes this very important and timely discussion on religion, democracy and pluralism. I cannot imagine a place better fit for this discussion than Indonesia, one of the most diverse countries in the world, home to a host of different cultures, religions and ethnicities, and a successful, vibrant democracy, and a better place than Bali, an Indonesian island whose population has maintained a rich and specific culture over centuries.
  2. Democracy is the only system of governance that safeguards fundamental rights and basic liberties for the citizens; although we also acknowledge that no democracy is perfect. Democracy lies at the heart of the European Union since the start of the European integration project. Respect for human rights, justice, solidarity, equality, non-discrimination and pluralism are cornerstones of our European values as enshrined in the Treaty on European Union as well as the EU charter of Fundamental Rights.
  3. Religion has often both an individual, intimate dimension and often a collective, public one. Within the European Union there is no unified legal system that governs religions-state relationships. European Union Member States have different models, ranging from strict separation to State churches. This is significant, because despite this diversity, all EU Member States protect and respect universal human rights and in particular the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief which is enshrined in Articles 18 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) but also in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
  4. We Europeans strongly believe that democracy is the best form of governance which can guarantee and protect freedom of religion or belief for all its citizens and the EU is strongly committed to defending and promoting it as shown in the consensual resolutions that the EU brings every year by the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council
  5. In fact, we consider that religious diversity and religious minorities can provide a crucial contribution to a healthy and sustainable society. The promotion and protection of diversity, including cultural and religious diversity, are at the core of the European integration project, as are the values of equality and human dignity.
  6. Unfortunately, we see the fundamental right of freedom of religion or belief increasingly under attack in many parts of the world, including in Europe, resulting in rising intolerance and even violent conflicts. The growing persecution of religious minorities and the rise of radicalisation and terrorism pose a direct danger to free and democratic societies. They not only threaten people's lives in the short term, but they also tend to affect their fundamental liberties in the long term. 
  7. Another challenge we are facing is the reconciliation of respect for faith with other human rights concerns. Getting the balance right is a struggle in any open society. In Europe, there are numerous instances of freedom of expression coming into conflict with religious sensibilities. We have to ensure that all faiths can be followed without fear and discrimination, but also that the legitimate assertion of faith is reconciled with broader human rights concerns. Finding a good balance is not always easy and solutions might differ. But we should all agree on a few clear red lines, in particular with respect to hate speech. There is an obvious need to prevent and prohibit incitement to hatred or violence against any particular group – be it directed against a certain faith or propagated by extremists acting in the name of a religion.
  8. Considering today's challenges, we need to reaffirm our commitment to the basic principles. We have to continue to strongly condemn all forms and manifestations of racism and xenophobia, including against any member of a religious community.
  9. The key word in the fight against rising radicalisation and fundamentalism and in the promotion of mutual understanding and tolerance is dialogue. An open interfaith dialogue is crucial in order to improve integration and social cohesion in Europe where there is a growing number of citizens of Muslim faith. Religious leaders play a pivotal role in the process of dialogue and mutual understanding.
  10. The EU maintains an ongoing dialogue with churches, religious, philosophical and non-confessional organisations. In this framework, the European Commission hosted last week (29 November) the annual high-level meeting with religious leaders from across Europe to discuss "Migration, integration and European values". Such initiatives demonstrate the EU's deep engagement in this process. The meeting highlighted that reaching out to all communities, including the different religious ones, is essential for creating and maintaining a cohesive and inclusive society for all. For Europe this means that with the rise of nationalism, xenophobia and extremism, we must ensure that our society remains welcoming – especially to those fleeing from war and in need of international protection – while preserving its core values and principles.
  11. And we also need the leadership of countries such as Indonesia as the world's largest Muslim majority country, a strong democracy and a country with a proud tradition of tolerance and pluralism. Religion serves as a strong foundation of the Indonesian state and plays a crucial role in the day-to-day lives of its citizens. Your model can be an example for many other countries and Europe is actively engaging with Indonesia on issues such as democracy, human rights, and interfaith dialogue. The EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, announced last week during the visit of Foreign Minister Retno to Brussels an exchange programme for religious scholars and leaders, including from Indonesia.
  12. Sadly a great number of countries are confronted by growing intolerance, the spread of radical ideologies and violent extremism. We democrats, in Europe as well as in Indonesia, have to stand up this trend by defending key values such as respect of human rights, justice, solidarity, non-discrimination and pluralism. It is vital that all stakeholders – government, civil society, religious organisations and the wider population – are on board to defend those hard-won democratic values. We have to work hard to ensure that tolerance and mutual respect remain the hallmark of our diverse societies. And in doing so we have to recall that diversity is a main pillar of our cultures and societies and in fact one of our mains strengths – here in Indonesia as well as in Europe.
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