In both the global north and south, religious, national, and cultural fundamentalisms and extremisms are sustained by exclusionary ideologies based on rights-diminishing narratives of religion, ethnonational identity, and cultural supremacy. These narratives are often perpetuated in the name of freedom of religion and belief, and are, at times, codified into law. The application of such laws, policies, and practices prohibits equality for groups and individuals across the globe, including members of religious minorities, freethinkers, humanists, political dissidents, and human rights activists, who are experiencing unjustified violations to their rights to freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression, often with little to no redress offered. These rights violations persist despite steps taken by the international community to address them.
This side event focused on maximizing synergies between the various existing frameworks by highlighting case studies of initiatives and programmatic work by civil society organizations, UN agencies and governments. It also aims to create space to foster discussion on the value of increasing “religious literacy,” as well as “religious freedom literacy,” among the actors tasked with responding to human rights violations in international and diplomacy spaces.
Among the different panelists, Mr. Eamon Gilmore, EU Special Representative for Human Rights, and Ms. Yoka Brandt, Secretary-General and Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands elaborated on how to combat intolerance and discrimination.
In her opening remarks, Ms. Yoka Brand announced that the Netherlands recently decided to host the next meeting of the Istanbul Process, the United Nations international framework for combatting discrimination and intolerance based on religion or belief. The Netherlands will continue in line of the efforts deployed during the last stock-taking meeting, co-hosted by Denmark and the EU in April in Geneva.
Mr. Eamon Gilmore, EU Special Representative for Human Rights welcomed the Dutch decision and recalled that the EU had been at the forefront in organizing this stocktaking meeting. "The EU remains fully committed to advancing the Istanbul Process," he said. The EU Special Representative also strongly reaffirmed that the freedom of religion or belief was high on the EU's human rights agenda, and a central part of his work. He exposed the various dimensions of the comprehensive approach developed by the EU dealing with freedom of religion or belief, including the work of promotion done by the EU in the multilateral fora, the dialogue engaged with third countries, the guidelines developed for all EU Member States, and the support provied to civil society and development projects.
Panelists of the event included Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Dr. Arben Ramkaj, President of the Inter-Religious Collaboration Center in Albania, Mr. Abdisaid Ismail, Co-founder and Director of MaPCo (Maandoon for Peaceful Co-existence), and Ms. Elham Manea, Associate Professor of Middle East Studies at the University of Zurich. The panelists exchanged on how to increase "religious literacy”.
The side event was co-organized by the Permanent Mission of the Netherlands in Geneva and the European Union Delegation in Geneva.