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World News

Minister says International Religious Freedom Conference will 'turn words into action'

by Donna Birrell

More than 500 delegates from around the world are set to attend a major conference on the Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) in London next week.  

It's the first International Ministerial Conference on FoRB to take place in person since 2019 and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Islamic Scholar Sheikh Abdallah Bin-bayyah, and Archbishop Bashar Warda of the Chaldean Catholic church in Erbil, Iraq will be among the delegates.

At a background briefing in London this week, Foreign Office Minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said : "I'm delighted that the UK, and the Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in particular, are hosting the International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief in London next week. 

"Article 18 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that 'everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion'. Put simply, Freedom of Religion or Belief is a right for everyone, everywhere.

"However, in practice too many people around the world are unable to choose their religion or belief, how they practice it, or to change that belief if they so wish. It is vital that the international community comes together and does everything it can to safeguard this right.

"We have over 500 delegates from around the world attending including faith and belief leaders, government delegations and civil society representatives. This will be the first International Ministerial Conference on this theme to take place in person since 2019, and we want to use the moment to turn words into action.

"It will be an incredibly diverse gathering, reflecting interest from across the religion and belief spectrum, government and civil society in this important issue. 

"I look forward to discussing how we can best prevent persecution and protect and promote individuals' right to freedom of religion or belief."

The conference is expected to ask countries to commit to specific pledges and action to tackle religious freedom abuses and violations.

It's also hoped the government will announce its progress on implementing the 22 recommendations of the Bishop of Truro's Independent Review into Foreign and Commonwealth Office Support for Persecuted Christians.

The Review was commissioned in 2018 by the then Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen's report which was published in 2019, found that an estimated one in three people suffer from religious persecution - 84% of the world's population - with Christians the most persecuted group. 300 million Christians are said to be suffering persecution globally.

The government accepted the recommendations for changes in policy and practice to protect FoRB around the world and an update on progress is expected at the conference. 


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