Global Director of Advocacy from the World Evangelical Alliance reflects on WEA’s and EAUK’s top leaders visit to the intergovernmental ministerial in London

By Janet Epp Buckingham

(from left) Boris Johnson, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Thomas Schirrmacher © Martin Warnecke

The UK government should be commended for organising this much needed event, bringing together politicians and civil society from around the world, to highlight issues of persecution on the basis of faith. It was especially encouraging to see the focus on the plight of women and girls, who are already vulnerable in many countries, but doubly so, when they are part of religious minorities.

But this is only the start.

The conference included a who’s who of experts and advocates, at the centre of activism on religious freedom. When all these advocates get together in one place, it facilitates collaboration, that can make a positive difference to people’s lives and communities.

It was really encouraging to see religious leaders from many faiths on panels together, building bridges of understanding and having discussions about how to advance religious understanding. These relationships can have long-term positive impacts.

The role of the special envoy is crucial

Several countries have special envoys on religious freedom, many of whom were in attendance and listened to survivors of persecution share their experiences. These special envoys have the mandate from their governments to facilitate projects that will make a difference at community level.

The UK’s Fiona Bruce MP, the prime minister’s special envoy on FoRB, worked tirelessly to organise this event, and shows us what influence and impact is possible when government take FoRB seriously. We also appreciate the Bishop of Truro, Philip Mounstephen, who wrote the independent review of foreign and commonwealth office support for persecuted Christians for the foreign secretary in 2019, who was very engaged with the ministerial.

Advancing religious freedom involves the government and civil society working together

Time and again we were reminded how important it is for awareness to raise on the fundamental human right of freedom of religion and belief. Change will not just happen from the top down in countries but need to happen from the bottom up. There were stories of hope and success in community training on FoRB. This can be replicated on a wider scale with the help of online learning platforms and increased media work.

There is so much to be done to advance freedom of religion around the world, it can be daunting. But events like this week’s ministerial are steps in the right direction. What we need to see now are governments who made pledges to uphold and support freedom of religion or belief, fulfill their commitments. We also desperately need to see governments who provide financial aid and development assistance to other nations to ensure those governments are upholding basic human rights like freedom of religion or belief.

 

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