UK ministerial looks for solutions to widespread persecution

A Nigerian Christian prays in church. Christian communities in Nigeria have been hit by wave after wave of killings, kidnappings and rape.Open Doors

Government ministers, faith leaders and activists from 50 countries around the world are coming together in London this week to discuss how freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) can be protected and upheld at a time of widespread persecution and violations.

The UK government ministerial is being held in London on Tuesday and Wednesday with the aim of "driving forward international efforts to defend FoRB for all".

It takes place as the Bishop of Truro, Philip Mounstephen, who oversaw the 2019 government-sponsored Truro Review into persecution, warned that FoRB abuses are becoming worse, not better.

About 500 delegates will discuss current challenges to FoRB across the world and what action can be taken to prevent violations.

Fiona Bruce MP, the Prime Minister's Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, said she wanted to see delegates come together "to continue to build consensus for action on this issue".

"Why is this conference so important? Well, it's important because all around the world today, even in the 21st century, millions of people are being deprived of an education or a job or a home or access to justice or liberty, even to life itself, simply on account of what they believe," she said.

"And so we're hosting this conference here in the UK so that we can bring together people from around the world to look at how we can address this situation."

Across the two days, sessions will consider early warning signs, challenges in the digital sphere, and how young people can be inspired to become FoRB champions.

Time will also be given to the "double jeopardy" faced by minority women and girls who live at risk because of both their faith and gender.

Dr Ewelina Ochab, Co-founder of the Coalition for Genocide Response, said: "The Ministerial on Freedom of Religion or Belief is an important affirmation of our commitment to freedom of religion or belief for everyone everywhere. It is an initiative that everyone should be involved in, one way or another.

"During the Ministerial, we will hear from those who have been intimidated, harassed, persecuted because of their religious or belief identity.

"We will hear the stories of those who cannot speak for themselves, as they have been arrested, detained, or worse, because of their religious or belief identity.

"We must use their messages and stories to work together towards a change and towards a more prosperous future – for all, everyone, everywhere."

The ministerial, which is being livestreamed, is taking place three years after the government agreed to accept the recommendations of the Truro Review, which identified a particular threat to Christians.

The conference also falls in the same year as the UK chairs the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance of 36 countries working to promote and protect FoRB.

On day two, Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, and Bishop Mounstephen will jointly host a prayer breakfast in London.

Over 100 delegates including ambassadors, special envoys for religious freedom, and representatives from NGOs will be in attendance, as well as Ms Bruce who will give the keynote address.

Archbishop Angaelos said, "Violations against people of religion, or belief, are an indication of violations of many other human rights within the same context.

"It is now also understood that the issue is beyond the capacity of any individual, organisation, community or even State to tackle alone.

"That is why the UK Government Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief is so important.

"I look forward to co-hosting another event with my dear friend Bishop Philip to which we are inviting key FoRB advocates, civil society actors, policy makers, and religious leaders to further nurture the spirit of collaboration and cooperation for the many around the world who need our collective voice and action."

Bishop Mounstephen said the conference "provides the UK and other governments with the perfect opportunity to press ahead with this vital global issue, recognising that for so many faith communities in the world the situation is getting steadily worse".

"It will be an inclusive event for people of many traditions, but it stands as a sign that faith - and the right not to believe - is a crucial part of the identity of so many individuals and communities the world over, and as such deserves to be protected and respected," he said.