H.E. Ms. Androulla Kaminara Ambassador of the European Union to Pakistan
International Religious and Rights of Minorities Conference in Pakistan
February 20, 2021, 14:40h Aiwan-e-Sadar
Honourable Mr. President, Minister Qadri, Member of Parliament Ms. Ruth, honourable Maulana Azad, professor Qibla Ayaz and esteemed Chair of IMRF, esteemed faith leaders, academics, civil society leaders, colleagues and partners from near and far.
I am extremely honoured to be here today to offer my concluding remarks to the two-day conversation on the Importance of Religious Freedom and Rights of Minorities. I am glad that so many parts of Pakistani society join hands together thanks to IMRF and Samuel Payara to start a conversation on how to exchange knowledge, awareness and concrete suggestion on how to ensure safe, secure, peaceful and tolerant societies for ALL citizens regardless of faith, race, creed or gender.
We as the European Union, are committed to advance inter/intra-faith harmony and co-existence globally – both within the EU and across the world. Let me also acknowledge that in Europe also we have our challenges with respect to interfaith harmony. No country in the world has totally solved this and this is why we should work together in addressing it.
The EU and Pakistan have identified interfaith harmony as one of the key priority areas in our EU-PK strategic engagement plan
In 2019, the Strategic Engagement Plan was signed between European Union and Pakistan. This plan or rather roadmap is important because it upgraded EU-Pakistan relationships and reaffirmed our joint determination to further strengthen the long term, forward looking and broad based partnership for peace, development and prosperity. A partnership which is rooted in shared values, principles, and commitments. The SEP is based on the principles of the UN Charter, international norms and law, principles of mutual respect and trust, as well as common interests. In the context of our the trade regime between PK and EU, the GSP+ regime, religious freedom is included in one of the 27 UN conventions which need to be implemented by Pakistan and this particular obligation pre-dates the GSP+ adoption.
More specifically, two key priorities in this plan relevant for our discussion today include:
Promoting and protecting human rights including minority rights
Enhancing intercultural and inter-faith dialogue and understanding in order to promote tolerance and harmony, in particular through a mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge, people-to-people contacts and education.
We have been committed to the above goals and we have reached out to those who can contribute to realising these priorities including politicians, civil society, religious leaders, and representatives from minority faiths.
This has been a particularly enriching part of my job here, since I had the opportunity to meet, listen to and discuss with many religious actors, human rights activities, minorities leaders and politicians on this topic. From all of these discussions, I am now convinced, that one of the keys to promoting interfaith harmony is in fact more contacts and increase number of meetings between the various communities. In order to increase harmony you need to increase understanding of what it means and feels like to be in the shoes on the ‘other’ and that can be achieved by increased interactions.
One milestone in our ongoing efforts in this area has been catalysing conversations together with the Council of Islamic Ideology about the role of schools and academic institutions in promoting peaceful and tolerant citizens and societies. I believe that education is key to uniting nations and reforming societies into progressive and inclusive societies. Schools and university campuses can contribute towards a building a culture of peace, diversity and harmony. In particular universities being at the centre of ideas, innovation and knowledge creation, must play a vital role in promoting the values of responsible citizenship, peace, tolerance, harmony, pluralism and co-existence amongst youth – these are the potential future leaders of society.
A more recent initiative and milestone has been a roundtable on interfaith and intra-faith harmony co-organised by EU and Maulana Azad on December 9, 2020, which culminated in a Joint Statement. I know Maulana Azad referred to this. While the statement has 8 equally important agreed commitments, I believe one commitment that is of key importance to any society is no. 5 “…the condemnation of hate speech against religion, race and colour which can result in any form of harm”.
All leaders, from religious leaders, political leaders, community leaders, society leaders from politics or the arts, have an important role to play in condemning hate speech.
Today, I would like to share a few reflections and two points with you:
Firstly,research informs us that 80% of the world’s population, women and men, profess to belong to one religion or another.
Religious actors, including religious leaders are influential, often among the most critical cultural gatekeepers in many societies and communities around the world. They can and must play an important role in also advocating for gender equality and also against gender-based violence and harmful practices, such as child marriages or forced conversions.
In Europe, we have also witnessed people turning away from religious affiliations – sometimes because of regressive opinions on gender equality held by religious authorities and communities.
For all the above reasons, it’s imperative to take into account, and critically appreciate when we speak about the rights of religious minorities, why and how religion intersects with the lives of citizens, women, men, girls and boys positively or negatively.
It is also extremely important to ensure that new legislation or bureaucratic decisions are analysed in detail, so as to ensure that they do not intentionally or unintentionally introduce new barriers or discriminations on grounds of faith, race or gender. Similarly updating existing legislation in this respect is also important. Often the devil is in the detail.
Secondly, human rights actors and religious actors need to work together and not in silos.
My second point is that there are many encouraging initiatives connecting human rights actors and religious actors/leaders. This is why I very much welcome today’s event - Just look around us here today.
I have already mentioned the unprecedented roundtable we co-organised in December. One of the most memorable parts of the roundtable was when people that would not have met nor interacted in the past came together – heard others but were also listened to – in the conviction that there is a need to promote interfaith dialogue and that all are necessary to be there to achieve this objective.
Before I conclude, let me say a few word on what we are doing in Europe. The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) is also stepping in the area of religion and human rights in Europe, which is both necessary and important. In 2019 EU launched a Global Exchange platform on Religion and Society, some of you here today were present at the launch. This platform reaffirmed the need for different actors (religious and non-religious) to actively exchange positive experiences of inter/intra-faith harmony and co-existence.
I am a firm believer that bringing closer religion and human rights can open innovative and unexpected common grounds.
The EU in Pakistan will continue catalysing inter/intra-faith roundtables with Pakistani partners and I hope these initiatives can generate real positive changes in peoples’ lives.
Thank you very much for your attention and congratulations again to the organisers and participants for committing to finding ways to promote religious freedom – we all have to do our part.
I am looking forward to continue engaging with all of you.