EU finally appoints religious freedom envoy after almost 3 year wait
Former Belgian Ambassador Frans van Daele takes on mandate as the EU’s Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU
Religious freedom advocates welcome development amidst increasing persecution against Christians worldwide
BRUSSELS (8 December) – The European Commission has appointed Frans van Daele as Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU. The Senior Diplomat has previously served as an Ambassador of Belgium to the United States, and as Chief of Staff to former President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy.
Aside from a brief period of five months in 2021, the Special Envoy position has been left vacant for almost three years. Religious freedom advocates have criticised the apparent reticence to fill the role in light of increasing pressure on religious freedom worldwide, including the persecution of Christians in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, and the violent murders taking place against Christian communities in Nigeria.
“Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith. The reappointment of a Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU is an important step in showing much-needed, real commitment to protecting this fundamental right. We urge the European Commission to strengthen the position of the Special Envoy and build on the important work already achieved,” said Adina Portaru, Senior Counsel for ADF International.
An Urgent Need for Action
Today, Christians living in Nigeria face some of the worst acts of persecution in the world. At least 17 Christians are killed every day simply because of their faith. For over a decade, terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State-West Africa Province have targeted Christians and other religious groups. In recent years, the brutality of attacks from various militants has only increased. Reports from charity Open Doors found that more Christians were killed in Nigeria in 2021—4,650—than in all other countries in the world combined. The International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law views the trend for 2022 as on-track to surpass that number, with no fewer than 2,543 Christians killed in jihadist-related violence in the first half of the year.
“Blood is being spilled every day simply because of what the victims believein countries like Nigeria, India and Pakistan, and the victims are in dire need of a decisive response from the EU. By equipping its Special Envoy, the EU could be a leading global actor in protecting this fundamental right,” continued Van De Walle.
The appointment of the new Envoy comes as the EU faces criticism for its alleged failure to address the severe violence and discrimination that Christians are facing across the world.
In May, some Members of the European Parliament shouted “shame!” as a resolution failed to secure the required number of votes, that would have condemned the brutal stoning-to-death of a Nigerian teenager after she thanked Jesus for her exam results on a Whatsapp message.
Role of the Special Envoy
The Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU was introduced in 2016 in order to protect freedom of religion or belief worldwide. The European Parliament called for the ‘EU to establish a permanent Special Representative for Freedom of Religion or Belief’ in its Resolution of 4 February 2016 on the systematic mass murder of religious minorities by the so-called ‘ISIS/Daesh’. Part of the mandate included visits to countries with some of the most violent religious persecution in the world in order to help address the situation and develop response plans. The Special Envoy played a decisive role in helping Asia Bibi safely leave Pakistan after she was acquitted of blasphemy charges.
There has been robust support for the continuation of the mandate, voiced by the European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance, national special envoys, scholars, and civil society. A Report on EU Guidelines and the mandate of the EU Special Envoy, adopted by the European Parliament on 16 January 2019 with overwhelming support (576 votes for), stressed the need for the Council and the Commission ‘to adequately support the institutional mandate, capacity and duties, by exploring the possibility of a multi-year term subjected to annual review’.
“The Special Envoy has played a crucial role in bringing the horrors of religious persecution to light at the European level. The role has created awareness around some of the worst and most persistent violations of fundamental rights around the world and helped focus EU efforts to counter them. The EU should not only continue, but also intensify efforts to protect freedom of religion or belief around the world,” said Robert Clarke, Director of Advocacy for ADF International.
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