Impacting Freedom of Religion or Belief one step at a time: 5 Highlights from 2018

It has been quite the year for the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB), especially since the human rights movement celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2018.

Every day, at IPPFoRB, we strive to build a global political movement that works towards promoting freedom of religion or belief for everyone, everywhere. From developing useful tools and resources to organizing interactive events and field missions, our endeavours seek to equip parliamentarians and legislators from across religious, political and geographical divides with practical knowledge and capacity to become global advocates for the right to freedom of religion or belief.

Having taken our first few steps into the New Year, we would like to take a moment to reflect on the five highlights of 2018 where IPPFoRB worked in a number of innovative ways to support parliamentarians in their battle to promote freedom of religion or belief.

Let’s build capacity and partnerships

In June 2018, IPPFoRB along with the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights organized a three-day workshop for 40 parliamentarians, legislators and civil society actors from the Balkans and South Caucasus region in Bucharest, Romania. Apart from discussing challenges to freedom of religion or belief in the region, the workshop saw cross-region participation and discussions around the intersection of freedom of religion or belief and gender, minority rights, security and institutions.

Engaging parliamentarians across the world

In the past IPPFoRB has repeatedly stated its concerns for the situation of freedom of religion or belief in Nepal. After IPPFoRB’s first mission to Nepal in 2017, last year, an international delegation of five parliamentarians returned to the country. IPPFoRB commissioned the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) to produce the ‘Challenges to Freedom of Religion or Belief in Nepal: A Briefing Paper’, which became a reference point for parliamentarians throughout the visit. Apart from meeting religious leaders, civil society actors and diplomats, the delegation got the opportunity to meet with government and nongovernment representatives, including Nepalese federal and provincial parliamentarians as well as the Speaker of the Parliament, to build relationships following the federal elections in December 2017.

A delegation of five parliamentarians visited Nepal for the second time in 2018.

A delegation of five parliamentarians visited Nepal for the second time in 2018.

Knowledge is Power

Guiding and widening the knowledge of parliamentarians about freedom of religion or belief has always been IPPFoRB’s strategic aim. We believe that by providing knowledge, we equip our parliamentarians with skills to resolve global issues of religious violations and persecution. To this end, the first IPPFoRB Academy was launched in Oxford, United Kingdom last year. With 13 parliamentarians, each from a different country, this three-day residential training programme saw the presence of experts such as Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Dr. Nazila Ghanea, Associate Professor of International Human Rights Law, University of Oxford and many more. The Academy consisted of formal lectures as well as more relaxed tutorials and small group work. In addition to learning from leading international experts, parliamentarians also benefitted from an excellent opportunity to network and learn from fellow peers and to share experiences and best practices.

Supporting parliamentarians with free resources

In an era, where digital resources are gradually becoming popular, IPPFoRB believes in making strategic use of online resources in order to reach a plethora of stakeholders. For the International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day (27th October 2018), IPPFoRB along with CSW launched a one-of-a-kind online toolkit that was designed to enable parliamentarians to advocate and promote freedom of religion or belief more effectively, both in their community and globally. Apart from providing suggested actions that a parliamentarian could take, in their personal capacity, to raise freedom of religion or belief with their government, the toolkit outlines different national, regional and international mechanisms a parliamentarian can use to their advantage.

Advocate for a better FoRB future

Our advocacy initiatives not only encourage parliamentarians and legislators to take meaningful steps towards achieving religious freedom for all but also allow IPPFoRB to respond to cases where religious freedom or belief is being threatened. In 2018, IPPFoRB drafted 6 advocacy letters to Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Eritrea, Egypt and Turkey. The letter drafted to be sent to Turkish authorities by network parliamentarians, in their own personal capacity, highlighted concerns about Pastor Andrew Brunson who was imprisoned for exercising his freedom of religion or belief in Turkey in 2016. The advocacy efforts of the international community, including IPPFoRB, resulted in Pastor Brunson being released towards the end of 2018.

In 2019, we commit to grow and equip parliamentarians with more knowledge, skills and influence in order for them to make more of an impact in countries where communities and individuals face religious violations and persecution. We believe in advancing fundamental human rights for all, especially the right to freedom of religion or belief.

At last, we thank all our network members, donors, supporters, partners, volunteers and everyone who works to advance freedom of religion or belief within IPPFoRB!