Article 10 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights expresses that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to manifest or even change religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance. All individuals have the right to practice their faith alone or in community with others in public or in private.
However, in many places around the world, religion or belief are still factors for discrimination that lead to conflict. Individuals fall victims based on the religion they practice or belief they share, as well as their communities or religious minorities around the world. Unfortunately, the volume and intensity of such crimes are increasing, assuming proportions of criminal nature and often having an international impact.
With the COVID-19 pandemic more barriers to tolerance have emerged. Conspiracy theories and scapegoating of religious and belief communities have increased, setting people further and further apart. The promotion of hatred and intolerance is often translated into acts of violence, leaving religious and faith minorities more vulnerable.
Today, on the International Day commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, it is important to pay tribute to the victims. Their rights have not been respected and they have been the object of criminal actions that have no place in our days. Observing crimes in the name or because of religion is attacking the fibre of our societies, built on universal rights, and challenging our capacity to accept what is different.
High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell released a declaration commemorating the day and stating: “Our commitment is guided by the implementation of the EU Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief. We strive to address any form of persecution and discrimination of individuals through the EU’s commitment to multilateralism and engagement in UN human rights for and UN-led initiatives”.
The EU unequivocally condemns all acts of violence based on religion or belief. Religion or belief-based acts, methods or practices of terror are not acceptable to be put in practice in any part of the world. The EU and Member States have a continuing approach of defending Freedom of Religion and Belief anchored within the Human Rights framework. Principles of universality, non-discrimination and indivisibility must be applied and protected.
Over the past ten years, through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), the EU has financed projects related to freedom of religion or belief worth more than EUR 22 million in all regions of the world, including among others, actions to counter hate speech and foster inter-community and inter-faith dialogue.
Collaborating with religious communities can often be part of the solution and many have offered support. Fighting religious intolerance can be achieved with the support of predominant religions. An example of such is the initiative ‘Global Exchange on Religion in Society’. It connects civil society practitioners inside and outside Europe, allowing them to learn from each other, explore partnerships, acquire new skills, and to scale-up positive experiences of coexistence among people of different faiths in pluralistic societies.
Tolerance and acceptance are two denominators that go hand in hand. Recognising the rights and beliefs of others as important as ours must be a goal to achieve a more peaceful and respecting world.