Some 5.5 billion people – 77% of the world’s population – live in countries where the freedom of religion or belief is severely restricted.
Even in 2017, many people live in fear of persecution and discrimination simply because of their beliefs. The EU qualifies this as “a widespread and complex problem that affects people in all parts of the world”. And yet, no high-level institutional position exists to tackle it.
In its Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the EU reaffirms its determination to promote and protect this basic freedom as a right to be exercised by everyone everywhere.
But a commitment made on paper can be ignored if no one is responsible for pulling it together and held accountable for the outcome.
In May 2016, President Jean-Claude Juncker created a Special Envoy for freedom of religion or belief outside the EU – a good and necessary step. But their mandate is weak – too weak to respond to the immense challenges those who believe face globally.
We need a conductor of the orchestra that is the EU in order to strike a better and more coordinated tone on religious freedom. The EU needs a properly staffed and funded Special Representative of freedom of religion or belief: a serious commitment to this fundamental right demands it, the persecuted in this world deserve it, and the EU can afford it.
Want to know more? EURACTIV is hosting a Stakeholder Workshop on “Freedom of religion and belief beyond the EU borders” on April 26.