Written by Nayla Barakat
Manama, June 1 (BNA) The human rights dialogue between the European Union and Bahrain has opened a new era to enhance exchanges between governments, decision-makers and civil society organizations working for freedom of religion or belief.
This was stated by the EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamonn Gilmore, at the end of the first EU-Bahrain Conference: Freedom of Religion and Belief entitled “Expanding the Tent: Freedom of Religion and Belief”.
In closing remarks, the EU Special Representative praised the multi-stakeholder approach to deliberations over the past two days at the historic conference hosted by Bahrain.
He said, “It is encouraging to see that the EU’s human rights dialogue with Bahrain is complemented by broad multi-stakeholder events such as the one we are concluding today.”
“I know your exchanges have been fruitful over the past two days. I congratulate Bahrain, a country that hosts a diverse population of different faiths, for its efforts to promote interfaith dialogue and tolerance.”
Gilmore said the EU is stepping up its engagement with Gulf states.
“Last month, we defined a ‘New Strategic Partnership with the Gulf,’ which is a comprehensive roadmap for strengthening our engagement with the Gulf Cooperation Council and its member states, including Bahrain. Last year’s EU-Bahrain Cooperation Agreement has taken our bilateral relations to a new level. Rights Human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, are an integral part of this enhanced partnership.I look forward to further communication with the Bahraini authorities, including through a possible visit to the country soon.
“Whether we are religious or not, we all have the right to live and act according to what we believe and the dictates of our conscience. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms the right of everyone to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”
He emphasized that no one should be persecuted or privileged because of their religion or belief, and of course, freedom of religion or belief should never undermine other rights, nor should it be used as a justification for violence, bigotry or discrimination.
Gilmore said that freedom of religion or belief has many dimensions, and intersects with other human rights.
Around the world today, we see freedom of religion or belief increasingly becoming a sign of how effective nations are in promoting and protecting the rights of their people. He said that religion in itself can be a channel for promoting mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.
“Promoting freedom of religion therefore remains an essential part of the EU’s work on human rights and a strong feature of my mandate as the EU Special Representative for Human Rights.
“Through the European Union Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024, we have intensified actions to prevent and combat all forms of discrimination, intolerance, violence and persecution against people on the basis of their exercise of freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief. We do this in different ways and using all the tools available to us,” he said. We call on all states to protect the right of everyone to have a religion or belief or to manifest or change their religion or belief, and we condemn the criminalization of apostasy and the violation of blasphemy laws.
Gilmore added that they take a public stand through data, and they also raise their concerns directly with governments through our human rights conversations.
“For example, the fifth round of the informal dialogue on human rights with Bahrain in February last year allowed for a frank and objective discussion on many issues, particularly the death penalty, the right to a fair trial, freedom of expression, and of course freedom of religion and belief. As a follow-up For that meeting, concrete action points were identified, including a joint event on freedom of religion and belief, which is this conference.”
He added that the EU was working closely with others in the multilateral system to promote freedom of religion or belief.
At the last session of the Human Rights Council, the European Union resolution on freedom of religion or belief renewed the mandate of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. The European Union fully supports the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur and calls on all UN Member States to issue a standing invitation to all UN Special Procedures.
We are also actively involved with other international organizations, with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. We continue to work with others on the Istanbul Process, which focuses on practical solutions to combat religious intolerance.”
He said that civil society and human rights defenders are essential partners in all this work, meeting every day with civil society and human rights defenders, not only in Brussels, but also through their network of 140 missions from the European Union around the world.
In addition, we interact regularly with religious organizations, humanists, atheists, and religious actors. For example, apart from discussing freedom of religion or belief, I talk to religious actors about many other issues, such as humanitarian affairs and peace mediation. Their role is fundamental in identifying the human rights violations that the EU needs to address.”
“Consistency and coherence about what we do externally and what we do internally is critical. Within the European Union, we have had an Action Plan against Racism since 2020, which contains a series of actions at all levels of government and recognizes the importance of focusing on combating discrimination on religious grounds.”
Gilmore added that they were aware that the media reinforced the stereotypes that fuel the stigmatization of Muslims.
“Therefore, with the European Federation of Journalists, we are currently developing a series of training modules for journalists on balanced narrative and storytelling when covering Islam or Islamic issues,” he said.
“When it comes to freedom of religion or belief, there should be no confusion. An attack on any religion is an attack on every religion. When a society is demonized or discriminated against, it puts us all at risk. When religion is used to undermine another right, it can be All other rights are at stake.
“Expanding the tent is an important step in broadening and deepening our collective work on freedom of religion or belief. We need more discussion and debate to focus our work, and to increase our solidarity and help those most vulnerable.”