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UK Statement to the OSCE on Freedom of Religion or Belief

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe holds its Human Dimension Implementation meeting, Warsaw, Poland

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

St Ruprecht church, Vienna

Working Session 6: Freedom of Religion or Belief

26 September 2013

The freedom of religion or belief is a priority area for the UK Government and we are committed to promoting and protecting this human right domestically, bilaterally and in multilateral fora.

It is a broad human right which includes the right to change one’s beliefs, to question the tenets of a religion, to share one’s faith in a non-coercive manner or to live free of any religious conviction.

The freedom primarily concerns individuals and their right to live free from discrimination, injustice or persecution on the grounds of their religion or belief, and their right to contribute equally to society. The United Kingdom firmly believes that international human rights law is not intended to protect beliefs themselves, but rather the freedom of individuals to manifest their religion or belief. Permissible restrictions or limitations on this manifestation should be the exception, to be applied in a non-discriminatory manner, and only as set out in international human rights law and to protect the freedom of others.

Despite the efforts of the UK, the OSCE and many other states and international organizations to promote and protect the freedom of religion or belief, the situation in 2013 for the majority of the world’s population continues to deteriorate. Nor is the discrimination only restricted to one specific faith community. In fact where one group suffers others are not normally far behind. This means that our response should be holistic, approaching the freedom as a universal human right rather than attempting a patchwork quilt of protections for various communities.

The OSCE has made specific commitments to the freedom of religion or belief including in Vienna in 1989 and Copenhagen in 1990 and we call on all participating States to implement these existing commitments. However commitments and changes to legislation are simply not enough to ensure this human right is protected. Governments, NGOs and civil society actors need to work together to ensure that it is protected. We welcome the intention of the Chairman-in-Office to table a Ministerial Decision to promote and protect freedom of religion or belief including through inter-religious dialogue. In order to secure full freedom of religion or belief throughout our region we also need to ensure we pay sufficient attention to intra-religious dialogue, as often it is a dispute over the various schools of thought within a religion that leads to violations of this freedom.

We also need to take advantage of ODIHR’s assistance and expertise in the field of Freedom of Religion or Belief. We support the work of the Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief including in developing Guidelines on Recognition of Religious or Belief Communities. There is a need for clarity within the OSCE region of the international standards and good practices on the use of recognition and the UK has worked with partners to attempt to address this shortcoming. However, it is important that these guidelines are carefully presented as part of a wider series, to avoid giving the impression that states should be looking to register believers. We maintain that, although registration is permissible on security grounds, it should not be the norm.

In concluding, we call on all participating States to stand against intolerance in all its forms and seek a world in which everyone shares equal access to rights, justice, education and economic opportunities regardless of their ethnicity, religion or belief.

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Published 26 September 2013