Freedom of Religion or Belief: International Conference — [Steve McCabe in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 28th June 2022.

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Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton 9:30 am, 28th June 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the UK-hosted International Conference on the Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Colleagues, the world is changing. We cannot be complacent about peace and stability. We need only look to Ukraine to see that. Millions of people today are being denied their freedom of religion or belief. FORB violations are getting worse in severity and scale. Across the world, people are losing their jobs, education, homes, livelihoods, families, freedom and access to justice, and even life itself, simply on account of what they believe. People are being discriminated against, marginalised, beaten, threatened, tortured and killed, and too often by their own Governments—the very Governments with a duty to protect their citizens’ freedom of religion or belief.

Why should that be, in the 21st century? Key exacerbating factors include rising intolerance and oppression by authoritarian regimes such as China, Myanmar and Afghanistan; frequent terrorist attacks by extremist groups, as in Nigeria, which now often function transnationally; the use, or rather misuse, of increasingly sophisticated technology to oppress minority groups; and the increasing FORB abuses during the covid pandemic.

We must actively protect free societies, and FORB is essential to that. When FORB goes, so many other basic human rights fall away too—yes, freedoms of speech, expression and association, but also access to healthcare, food and work, and even liberty and life itself. Discrimination damages democracies. Persecution impedes the development of the skills and talents of all, and impoverishes economies, so religious freedom is not just a benefit to those with religious beliefs; it is a benefit to all.

When President Roosevelt, one of the driving forces behind the establishment of the United Nations, envisioned a world of peaceful coexistence between nations, he stressed the need for four essential freedoms to exist in any stable, secure, democratic society: freedom of expression, freedom from want, freedom from fear and freedom of belief. When FORB is respected, societies are more likely to be stable and secure, and to flourish economically. They are less prone to extremist attacks. So it is not to put too fine a point on it to say that in promoting FORB we are promoting peace. Indeed, promoting FORB is essential to securing global peace, and doing so now is as critical as ever.

The UK Government are deeply concerned about the increase in FORB violations globally and see defending FORB as a human rights priority, as part of what our Foreign Secretary calls the international network of liberty, so the UK is next week hosting a major international conference in central London—the 2022 international ministerial conference on freedom of religion or belief.