- European Parliament underscores the importance of protecting religious freedom
- Mandate of EU Special Envoy should be strengthened
STRASBOURG/BRUSSELS (16 January 2019) – On 15 January, the European Parliament adopted the “Resolution on EU Guidelines and the mandate of the EU Special Envoy on the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU.” The Parliament called on the EU institutions to step-up their commitment to religious freedom.
“Nobody should be persecuted for their faith. Ahead of the European elections in May, the European Parliament is sending a clear message with this report. The European Union should take seriously its responsibility to protect the fundamental right to freedom of religion. The Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief and the EU Guidelines already provide the necessary instruments. With the institutionalization of the Special Envoy position, and the strengthening of the mandate, the European Union can and should be better positioned to help ensure religious freedom worldwide,” said Alice Neffe, Legal Counsel for ADF International in Brussels.
Dramatic rise in violations
The resolution passed with 576 in favour, only 46 against, and 73 abstentions. In the report, the European Parliament expressed, “its deep concerns that recent years have seen a dramatic rise in violations of Freedom of Religion or Belief worldwide,” and that violations of this fundamental freedom “undermine democracy, impede development, and negatively affect the enjoyment of other fundamental freedoms and rights.” Therefore, the international community, the EU, and its Member States should “reaffirm their determination and strengthen their actions in promoting FoRB (Freedom of Religion or Belief) for all.”
Call for more support from EU institutions
“We appreciate the achievements of Ján Figeľ, who, despite the limited human and financial resources, has been carrying out the tasks of the Special Envoy since 2016. We call on the Council and the European Commission to review the mandate of the Special Envoy and provide appropriate support. We call for the change of the current annual mandates, for a multiannual mandate, and for supporting the development of cooperation networks in all EU institutions and Member States,” said Andrzej Grzyb MEP, the rapporteur of the report.
Ján Figeľ, the current EU Special Envoy said, “We need to accept responsibility. Tens of thousands face persecution, discrimination, and even genocide. If you look at Asia Bibi and others, it is quite clear that the EU and the rest of the world need to ensure justice. This is the best way of ensuring sustainable development. Religious Freedom is important for everyone.”
A clear need to strengthen the position of the Special Envoy
Ahead of the vote, over 50,000 European citizens signed a petition calling for the strengthening and the institutionalization of the mandate of the Special Envoy. Manfred Weber MEP, Chair of the European People’s Party group in the European Parliament, received the petition and expressed his support for the issue. According to the report, the European Parliament “considers the appointment of the Special Envoy as an important step forward and a clear recognition of FoRB within the human rights agenda of EU foreign policy and external actions,” and calls on the European Council and Commission to strengthen the position by “adequately support[ing] the Special Envoy’s institutional mandate, capacity and duties [and] by exploring the possibility of a multi-year term subjected to annual review and by developing working networks within all relevant EU institutions.”