I am very happy to be here today to open this training workshop on international standards of freedom of religion or belief. First of all, I would like to thank Aliya Duganova of Astana Centre Consulting for her efforts in organising this workshop and inviting me to speak. I would also like to thank the Finance Academy and Dr Sarkytbek Moldabayev personally for hosting this event. Finally, and most importantly, many thanks to you all for your interest in this issue.
Today you will hear a great deal about freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief and international standards connected to these issues. I will therefore not go into great detail on this but I would like to say that freedom of religion or belief, being one of the oldest and most pre-eminent recognised human rights, is guaranteed by a multitude of human rights treaties. It is more far-reaching than we might first think. It encompasses not just the freedom to hold personal thoughts and beliefs, but also an ability to manifest views and practices individually or in a community - in public or in private.
We are often asked why the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office provides assistance to projects such as this one. That is an easy question to answer. In the United Kingdom, we strongly believe in and support the whole range of human rights. Freedom of religion or belief is an essential part of our culture - as is the case in Kazakhstan we have a multicultural and religiously heterogeneous society. We believe this freedom is crucial to a peaceful society. Moreover, freedom of thought, conscience and belief underpins many other fundamental freedoms. The British Government fully supports the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, which prohibits (and I quote): “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on religion or belief and having as its purpose or as its effect nullification or impairment of the recognition, enjoyment or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis”.
We are therefore, committed to uphold this fundamental human right, not only domestically, but to also promote it internationally through bilateral and multilateral initiatives and projects such as this one.
This workshop is one of a series which are part of a project funded by the British Embassy in Kazakhstan. Over the last two years we have run it in cooperation with the Agency for Religious Affairs, the Academy of Civil Service and various other organisations. So far such workshops have been offered to civil servants, prosecutors, youth groups, and journalists. This is the first time we have offered it to your academy and it is an absolute pleasure to be here today to do that.
I therefore hope you will enjoy the workshop and find it helpful. I also trust that it will further enable you to support this human right not only personally but also in your professional lives. I would like to wish you every success in your studies and future careers.