"Freedom of religion or belief is a right that should be enjoyed by more than just a minority of citizens worldwide", Mr Figel said at the EU side event "Religion and State – a multidimensional relationship" on Monday, March 5. He also highlighted EU commitment to ensure that everyone can enjoy the freedom of religion and belief which can "contribute significantly to the dignity of everyone."
The event was opened and moderated by the Deputy Head of the EU Delegation, Ambassador Carl Hallergard, who stated: "The freedom of religion or belief constitutes a fundamental priority on the EU's agenda, representing a key element of the EU's human rights policy. The EU continues to support the protection of the freedom of religion or belief and condemns acts of intolerance, violence and discrimination committed worldwide based on or in the name of religion or belief."
UN Special Rapporteur Shaheed used the event to reflect upon his annual report which focuses on the relationships between state and religion and their impact on freedom of religion or belief. The role of the state was important to address the diversity of issues surrounding the promotion of freedom of religion or belief. "In a world of increasing diversity, it is more important than ever that states adopt a posture towards religion or belief that enable them to discharge effectively their obligations to be a trustworthy and impartial guarantor of everyone’s right to the equal enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief," Dr Shaheed said.
On Tuesday, March 6, the EU also held a side event on "The Impact of Media on Freedom of Religion or Belief" which was also attended by Special Envoy Figel as well as UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed. The Head of the EU Delegation, Ambassdor Peter Sørensen, opened the event. He underlined that on-going discrimination and intolerance constitute a major threat to peace and stability: "The number of acts of intolerance, violence and discrimination based on religion or belief are increasingly being perpetrated throughout the world. No part of the world is exempt from the scourge of these abuses. The EU strongly condemns these acts, which have an impact on all spheres of human life." Ambassdor Sørensen highlights the impact of film and media on the education of what the right to freedom of religion or belief means and why it is so important: "Film and media have the power to shape perceptions and opinions, galvanise support, and mobilise individuals and groups. Film can be used as medium to enable learning, inspire civic engagement, highlight violations, empower victims with tools to claim their rights, as well as to tell compelling success stories. We believe that the promotion of literacy in the area of Freedom of Religion or Belief is key and needs to be expanded."
At the event, the Freedom of Religion or Belief (FORB) Learning Platform was launched. It is an initiative of the Nordic Ecumenical Network on International Freedom of Religion or Belief (NORFORB) and provides resources to help individuals, communities and decision-makers learn, reflect upon and promote freedom of religion or belief for all. It includes resources for personal study and for educators and facilitators. The event will also featured a screening of the Oscar-shortlisted, Emmy-nominated Canadian short film My Enemy, My Brother by Director Ann Shin, who was also present at the debate.
The EU also co-sponsored several other side events on the topic, among them the March 6 event "Protecting the freedoms of religion or belief and expression for all - sharing good practice in promoting inclusion, diversity and pluralism."