UNGA: Promoting the Freedom of Religion or Belief

Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende at the Trygve Lie Symposium on Promoting the Freedom of Religion or Belief, 21 September 2017.


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Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,  

First of all I would like to thank the International Peace Institute for co-organising the Trygve Lie Symposium with Norway for the 10th time. 

Religious minorities are among the world’s most vulnerable people.  

We see this all over the world: the Yazidis in Iraq, Christian minorities in the Middle East, the Rohingyas in Myanmar, and Christians and Shia Muslims in South Asia.

Approximately 70 % of the world’s population live in countries that in one way or other restrict freedom of religion or belief.  

70 % of the world’s population is an overwhelming number of people.  

This is not merely a question of Muslims against Christians or Jews. All groups are affected, not least Muslim minorities.  

Finding a solution is our moral imperative. We must not only stop the attacks on religious minorities, we must also actively promote freedom of religion and belief.  

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It also states that everyone has the right to manifest their religion or belief.  

Next year we will celebrate the declaration’s 70th anniversary.

Let us make use of this occasion to join forces and stand up for the people who are suffering serious violations of human rights every day.  

Human rights are universal and interdependent.  

It is impossible to separate the right to freedom of religion or belief from other fundamental civil and political rights like the right to life, the right to privacy, and the right to freedom of assembly and expression.

Religious freedom allows people to hold the beliefs they choose and to express them.  

For believers, faith provides a sense of identity. A sense of belonging.  

Restricting religious freedom isolates and excludes.  

The status of freedom of religion and belief is an indicator of the general human rights situation in any given country.  

An indicator of how much a country is willing to do to protect its most vulnerable people.  

The Rohingya people are again fleeing Myanmar in large numbers.  

Their situation is dire and uncertain. Last week the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that the recent events in Rakhine resemble a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. We share his concern.

We call upon Myanmar to give full humanitarian access and to work to find a lasting solution to the conflict with the Rohingya.  

While the world’s attention is turned towards Rakhine, we must not forgot other minority groups, particularly in the Middle East.

The Copts in Egypt have been targets for deadly violence throughout history.  After Mubarak fell in 2011, the violence increased.  

The bombing of a Coptic church on Palm Sunday this year is only one example of a horrific attack on the religious group – this one on the most symbolic of days.

The world watched in horror when the true scale of ISIL’s atrocities toward the Yazidis was revealed.  

There are no words to describe the suffering.

 Women and girls have been raped and forced into sex slavery. Children forced to be soldiers. Entire families eradicated.  

A UN panel has described the atrocities as a genocide.  

The fact that we are using the words genocide and ethnic cleansing to describe events unfolding in 2017 – 70 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – is a disgrace.  

The situation in Rakhine is a stark reminder that we need concerted and immediate international action to protect religious minorities.  

Earlier this year, Norway doubled its support for religious minorities to NOK 40 million a year.  

Norway is committed to identifying and supporting national, regional and global measures that promote greater respect for freedom of religion and belief worldwide.  

One such measure is the network International Parliamentarians for the Freedom of Religion or Belief (IppForb), which is led by a Norwegian member of parliament, Abid Raja.  

This network of elected representatives from five continents is building understanding and spreading ideas across geographical, cultural and religious boundaries.  

Lack of religious freedom is a serious breach of human rights that affects too many people across the world.  

The fact that this is still the case, 70 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human rights, is completely unacceptable.

To quote the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion: ‘Collective religious hatred is not a natural phenomenon; it is caused by human action’. 

We cannot allow this to continue. It is our moral obligation to work for a solution. 

I look forward to discussing this further with you here today.  

Thank you!