A sincere thanks to our colleagues for hosting, and for the valuable insights from the panellists.
We appreciate the opportunity this meeting provides to highlight two topics which are central to Norway’s international engagement: First, the importance of the protection of minority religious and belief groups in conflict settings, and second, the contribution of religious actors in peace processes.
Experience in recent years has shown that members of minority religious and belief groups are particularly exposed during war and conflict. Several States do not comply with their obligations under international law to provide protection for religious groups. A lack of protection for, and attacks against, religious and ethnic minorities impedes efforts to resolve conflict and build inclusive and peaceful societies.
Advancing the protection of minorities in conflict should be a matter of concern for the Security Council. Indeed, several Council resolutions have already recognised the religious and ethnic aspects of the horrible atrocities committed against the Yazidis and other religious groups.
Not only must we work to prevent attacks, but also ensure accountability for violations of international humanitarian law, and human rights violations and abuses. Impunity contributes to conflicts, and perpetuates atrocities. Those responsible for atrocities must be held accountable through credible national or international criminal justice mechanisms. Accountability is crucial for long-term peace and reconciliation.
Thankfully we do have positive examples to draw on. Like in Iraq: The adoption of the Yazidi Survivors Law is an important step in acknowledging the impact on, and suffering of, the Yazidis and other minority communities, by introducing a number of reparation measures.
As we know, the lack of protection for minorities- including respect for their religious convictions and practice- creates divisions in communities that are difficult to mend. We’ve unfortunately seen this in Yemen with the worsened situation for religious minorities, including followers of the Baha’i faith. We should all take note of how religious leaders globally often play a constructive role in facilitating, and ensuring humanitarian access, and promoting the protection of civilians.
This brings me to my second point on the contribution of religious actors in peace processes. In many contexts, religious leaders and institutions are well placed to influence conflict parties and reconcile divided communities. Involvement by religious leaders can be vital in de-escalating conflict, and securing public support for negotiated solutions.
Especially women leaders – who can help identify ways to advance women’s equal rights and participation in all aspects of the peace process. And often to advance the protection for, and justice to, survivors of conflict related sexual, and gender based violence.
It is essential to understand the local context for peace and reconciliation. So the inclusion of all parts of civil society is important for peace efforts to succeed. There are many useful examples to learn from the involvement of religious actors in peace processes. From a Norwegian perspective, we’ve seen the added value of Norwegian Church Aid and the Ethiopian inter-religious council in promoting dialogue in local communities in Ethiopia, and the Council of Churches establishment of a national platform for dialogue in Zimbabwe. Pope Francis’s recent visit to Iraq is also a prime example of the potential of peaceful messages from religious actors. In a region marked by the heavy tolls of war, including devastated Christian communities, the meeting between Pope Francis and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was truly inspirational - sending a unified message on the need for peaceful coexistence, mutual respect, and the right to protection.
To sum up colleagues: religious minorities in conflict settings must be protected, and we must make better use of religious actors. They can play an important role in fostering social cohesion, and reaching sustainable peace.