International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief

Freedom of Religion or Belief: A Litmus Test for Other Liberties

MUNICH: The Munich Security Conference side event, A Neglected Dimension of Security Policy? The Struggle for Freedom of Religion or Belief in the Middle East and Northern Africa, convened by Hanns Seidel Foundation in collaboration with the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB), brought together religious and political leaders who addressed freedom of religion and belief in the Middle East and North Africa.

The panel, chaired by H.E. Ambassador of Germany to Luxemburg, Heinrich Kreft, was composed of the patriarchs from Lebanon, Cardinal Rai, and from Egypt, Isaak Sidrak, the Canadian MP and Chair of the IPPFoRB Steering Group, David Anderson, the member of Bundestag, Prof. Heribert Hirte, the EU Special Envoy for Religious Freedom outside the EU, Ján Figel, and the Vice Speaker of the Norwegian Parliament and one of the founders of IPPFoRB, Abid Raja.

The aim of the event was to draw attention of the official Munich Security Conference to the struggle for freedom of religion or belief in the Middle East and North Africa. The precarious situation of Oriental Christians in the Middle East and the Copts in Egypt and their uncertain future was confirmed by both patriarchs.

Growing awareness

Prof. Ursula Männle, Minister of State and a Chairwoman of Hanns Seidel Foundation, opened the event by noting that after religion has been neglected in politics for many decades, there is a growing awareness that the relationship between religion and politics has a much greater importance.

– Of central importance here is the question of the human right of religious freedom, which has come under heavy pressure not only from Islamist actors in the abovementioned regions but, unfortunately, worldwide today in many places, said Prof. Männle.

She also underlined the strategic importance of partnership in this initiative with the network of parliamentarians (IPPFoRB), created just 4 years ago by 5 parliamentarians from different countries and today numbering around 250 parliamentarians from almost 70 countries.

Did not expect

As the Chair of the IPPFoRB Steering Group, David Anderson said:

– We did not expect that IPP would become what it is now. But it touches on very practical issues. We have had members of our network that have lost their citizenship, others have had travel restrictions put on them, and continued:

– We in IPPFoRB reject the notion that some people are more deserving of rights than others. Our challenge is to stay focused on those legislators who play such an important role in their countries around the world to advance freedom of religion or belief for all.

Europe as a facilitator?

Jan Figel, the EU Special Envoy for Religious Freedom, pointed out that the Middle East is our neighbor and Europe can act as facilitator in this area.

– Peace is fruit of justice. And justice is for all and everywhere, he emphasized.

Mr. Figel concluded that Europe can and should help in more concrete terms: in reconstruction, providing support to civil society and religious minorities on one hand, and to facilitate dialogue and cooperation between religious leaders, on another.

The discussion touched upon the role of social media and the risks for freedom of religion or belief being charged with negative meaning in media outlets. Prof. Hirte underlined that freedom of religion or belief is not only a basic right, but also a litmus test for all other liberties in a society and it is important to make sure that people are able to live by their different identities.

– The world needs mechanisms

– 70 years after the Universal Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations, 70% of world’s population is persecuted on the grounds of their religion or belief, said Abid Raja, one of the founders of the IPPFoRB.

– The world needs mechanisms to react when it is clear that human rights breaches have taken place. Our job is to make sure the world of tomorrow is much better for the generation to come! Believers need to stand up and say to extremists that they cannot operate and kill in our name or in the name of God. The extremist are hijacking the religion – and moderate muslims need to stand up and say stop this terror now and forever, said Raja.