The right to freedom of religion or belief is enshrined in many global and regional rights instruments as well as, to varying degrees, in the constitutions or basic laws of most countries. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) defines FoRB as follows:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
FoRB offers equal protection to people of all faiths and beliefs. States are bound by international and human rights law to uphold Article 18 of the UDHR and also of the ICCPR if they have signed and ratified it. A fundamental characteristic of both is the principle of non-discrimination. The principle of non-discrimination emphasises the fact that individuals are entitled to full enjoyment of human rights irrespective of their religion or belief. There the state has a primary responsibility to respect, protect and promote rights of all individuals. Although international and human rights law is primarily concerned with the responsibility a state has to its citizens, the state also has a duty to make sure that non-state actors are prosecuted for crimes they commit.
More worrying concerns are that some countries continue to deny the universality of FoRB. In fact, in recent years an increasing number of countries seem to identify with one specific religion or belief, in spite of inclusive language enshrined in their legislation. This trend is particularly visible in parts of Asia, Africa and Easter (non-EU) Europe. A second concern is the rise of non-state actors such as Islamic extremist groups with territorial ambitions such as Boko Haram and ISIL/Da'esh. Some of these groups have boldly used the void left by retreating central government in failed states or are indeed now among the main reasons why some states, or parts of states, "fail".
In this context of general deterioration, it took the European Union quite long to come up with its Guidelines on the promotion and protection of Freedom of Religion or Belief (EU Guidelines on FoRB). However, the Guidelines are a significant milestone and show awareness within the EU that:
- FoRB is an important right that deserves protection besides for example labour rights, women's rights or media freedom;
- FoRB violations are increasing in many regions of the world, including sometimes as part of campaigns to intimidate or drive out certain faith or belief groups;
- The promotion and protection of FoRB is an important foreign policy objective and its correlates with other human rights as the well-functioning of a democracy and the rule of law.
Read the full report here.
Also, read an article based on the report: Religious Violence is Bad for Business – A Case India’s Modi Might Make in Bangladesh