LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Britain should follow the example of the U.S. State Department and publish an annual report on religious freedom, according to the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
In a submission to the House of Commons Inquiry Promoting Human Rights Around the World, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said “strong religious literacy of ministers, ambassadors and diplomats is one of the most important requirements for effectively promoting freedom of religion or belief.”
The bishops said the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office – which serves the same function as the U.S. State Department – should consider publishing something similar to the annual International Religious Freedom Report.
The U.S. State Department releases the report as part of the provisions of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which also established a U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom and a bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
The commission also produces its own annual report, in which it analyzes the U.S. government’s implementation of the 1998 law and provides recommendations to bolster U.S. international religious freedom policy. It also documents the state of religious freedom in different countries around the world.
The two reports by the State Department and the Commission on International Religious Freedom are considered the most extensive and well-documented and are consulted by governments and NGOs around the world.
“Adopting a similar system may facilitate better examination of country-level activity and strengthen the UK’s work in this area. We therefore recommend that the [Foreign Office] explores options for periodically publishing a summary of contact between diplomatic posts and faith communities particularly in human rights priority countries,” the bishops’ statement said.
The bishops said it was “encouraging” that the Foreign Office’s Human Rights and Democracy Annual Report 2016 identified religious freedom as a “human rights priority” and said the Foreign Office was committed to taking “a leading role in tackling discrimination or persecution against religious communities throughout the world.”
“However, this commitment must be underpinned by practical action in order to ensure that the UK’s foreign policy makes a genuine difference for the millions of people who are suffering because of their faith,” the bishops said.
“Any decisions or advocacy affecting faith communities must be informed by a strong comprehension of different traditions, sensitivities and historical contexts,” the statement continued. “We recognize that the [Foreign Office] provides some staff with religion and foreign policy training, and that diplomatic posts are provided with a freedom of religion or belief toolkit. However, the effectiveness, content and application of these remains unclear.”
On July 4, British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Lord Tariq Ahmad as her Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
“Religious discrimination blights the lives of millions of people across the globe and leads to conflict and instability. Both here and abroad, individuals are being denied the basic right of being able to practice their faith free of fear,” May said when the appointment was announced.
Ahmad, who is also Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the UN at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said he would “use the UK government’s global network to reach across religious divides, seek the elimination of discrimination on the basis of religion or belief and bring different communities together.”