Common humanity and vulnerability of women stressed by UK Forum on FORB

Bishop Philip Mounstephen of Truro welcomed seventy-nine participants to the new UK Forum on the Freedom of Religion or Belief (as expressed in Article 18 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights) to its first meeting on September 15, held by zoom under Chatham House rules.

The forum has 55 stakeholder organisations at present. Its purpose and objective is to be stakeholder led and action focused. Its theory of change holds that a diverse group of stakeholders with common values can achieve more than one person or organization acting on their own.

EFAC and Anglican Mainstream were among many organisations represented.

Over eighty minutes the importance of a common humanity was stressed in the face of identity politics. This was urged from the perspective of all major faiths. The forum is intended to strengthen participants' resolve against the forces of division.

Tensions

The question hung in the air about the basis for affirming common humanity as implicit contradictions appeared. Majoritarian religions do not allow conversion to another faith. In India the Hindutva movement affirms one nation, one god and one religion. It was suggested that had Article 18 on religious freedom been in place a thousand years ago Hinduism would not have been subject to conversion attempts by Muslims and Christians. A recent case was cited of a Christian social worker in India helping some Dalit families and was accused of trying to convert them. She was deliberately infected with COVID by her assailants. Many infringements of freedom of religion or belief were cited from Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan, Northern Nigeria, and Uzbekistan with radical Islam clearly in view.

Women in minority groups are doubly vulnerable. A new website genderandreligiousfreedom.org is being established. Uighur muslim women in China are being subjected to forced sterilization, sexual violence, forced organ harvesting and slave labour in industries which produce high street brands. The need to call officials of the Chinese Communist Party to account for these atrocities was emphasized. Opposition should be mounted to the 2022 Winter Olympics being held in Beijing.

Action

Efforts are also being made to enable the million Christians who fled from Iraq to return to the mainly Christian area of the Nineveh Plain. They represent a large part of Iraq’s skilled workforce and are needed for the reconstruction of the country. The Iraqi Prime Minister has called them ‘original children of the country’. But, with the absence of adequate security, only 17,000 have returned so far.

Rehman Chishti MP attended though he had resigned the previous day as the Prime Minister’s Envoy for FORB over the contradiction between calling for nations to abide by Article 18 of the UN Convention on Human Rights and the possible overriding of the international treaty on leaving the EU. It was hoped that his successor would be appointed swiftly and have not only an executive role but be able to make policy and be accountable to Parliament. The merger of DFID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was welcomed for increasing the budget and support for the policies of the Government for FORB.

17 of the 22 recommendations of the 2019 Truro Report were claimed to have been implemented or be in process. Implementation usually referred to reports being presented or to international advocacy groupings being joined. It was stressed that the point of the present meeting was the action taken afterwards. Some of these include letters to the UK Government on some of the subjects raised.

In 2021 the UK will be the president of the UN Security Council and planning is underway on how that role can enable the UK to take a lead on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Further meetings are planned in October and December, when use of the Q and A and chat facilities in Zoom might help feedback and enable discussion and interaction.

From Church of England Newspaper September 24