Religious Freedom 'Is A Litmus Test Of Overall Freedom' Says EU Special Envoy

Jan Figel, the new EU Special Envoy for freedom of religion or belief, has expressed his hopes that his role will not be "temporary".Reuters

Jan Figel, the European Union's first Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU, has said he hopes the EU will remain committed to the cause and that his role will not be "temporary".

Speaking in an interview played in Parliament today, Figel said: "I hope that my mandate will continue...I hope it is not something temporary but lasting and bringing fruits for people to live in peace, to live in a better world in the 21st century."

Figel, a Christian who was appointed in May this year, added: "Freedom of conscience, freedom of thought and freedom of religion is the basic precondition for real is also an essential element of human dignity...Religious freedom is litmus test of overall freedom in society and overall universal human rights so it is important to pay due attention."

In the interview, played during a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, Figel said: "There are [many] negative realities of today. One of the most striking is in the Middle East...within this spectrum we have to eliminate...fanaticism, radicalisation and extremism."

He went on: "Either we stop a century of genocides and start a new one, or it will somehow continue...The UK is a great country with a rich history and potential. The UK has a strong say...within the Commonwealth. I am happy that British parliamentarians are not silent...against ongoing atrocities in the Middle East."

Figel's contribution came as the all party group met to mark International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day, with speakers including the campaigning Conservative peer Baroness Elizabeth Berridge and Christian Labour MP Stephen Timms.

Timms said that religious freedom is "a right that is violated in far too many places". He added: "It is more important than ever for that freedom to be honoured so that nobody need fear persecution for what they believe."

The meeting came as the group sent a letter to Lord Bates, Minister of State at the Department for International Development (DFID), expressing concern over the Department's spending on education in Pakistani provinces which issue textbooks containing "anti-minority teachings".

The letter, seen by Christian Today, says: "As you will know, there are concerns amongst many educational and human rights organisations about intolerance against minorities in Pakistan, arising in part from the literature in school textbooks.

"There is considerable evidence that many children from minority backgrounds in provinces which receive funding from DFID are discriminated within schools by teachers and other classmates alike. Some do not even attend school due to an environment of intolerance and hatred against them.

"This is exacerbated by a culture that views minorities with bias, distrust, and inferiority which is further fuelled by textbooks and curricula which contain indoctrinating material against religious and belief minorities."