Top-level Conference Calls for Respect of Religious Freedom in Fight Against Terrorism

Conference in progress

Vienna, Austria… Main speakers at the international conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief stressed the importance of respecting religious freedom while fighting terrorism.

“We should not use excuses to limit these freedoms,” commented Ambassador Christian Strohal, director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the organizers of the conference. “The threat of terrorism must not be used as an excuse to infringe on the right of individuals and groups to freely choose and manifest their religion or belief.”

Dr Gallagher with Ambassador Strohal

“The fight against terrorism and extremism cannot justify just any action,” added keynote speaker Professor Abdelfattah Amor, addressing the representatives of the 55 European and Central Asian states that make up the OSCE. “Today it seems that everything is placed under question, especially freedom of religion or belief. I am concerned that we may be currently be witnessing a return to the past, and that the progress that has been made over the past decades in ensuring the right to freedom of belief is under threat.” Amor is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

“We are highly concerned at recent developments in many nations that have reduced religious freedom in the name of national security,” comments Dr Jonathan Gallagher, deputy secretary general of the International Religious Liberty Association, conference participant. “The rise in religious intolerance and discrimination must be combated, for the risk of destabilization and inter-religious violence is grave when the religious beliefs of faith communities are disregarded. The imposition of the prejudices of majority faiths on religious minorities is the cause of much persecution and suffering, and we are committed to defend those who endure such mistreatment.”

The 200-plus delegate OSCE Conference in its three sessions July 17 to 18 examined limitations to religious freedom, promoting religious tolerance, and the role of media in freedom of religion or belief.

Azerbaijani Religious Liberty Advocate Addresses OSCE Conference

IRLA deputy secretary general, Dr. Gallagher, with Iman Ilgar Allahverdiyev.

Vienna, Austria… The representative of the Religious Liberty Association of Azerbaijan spoke out at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Freedom of Religion or Belief Conference, giving six recommendations for implementation by governments and international organizations.

Ilgar Allahverdiyev, speaking for the Association in Russian, said “there should be no pressure on any religion by the state, that religious education should not be obligatory, and that the state should encourage religious pluralism.” Going further, he recommended that schools and universities should work for a culture of peace, that there must be no interference in the beliefs and convictions of any peoples, and that religious freedom should only be limited by the values of a democratic society.

Allahverdiyev explained that the Azerbaijan RLA provided a forum for a wide range of faith communities, including Muslims, Orthodox, Catholics, Jews and Adventists. “As these different confessions get together and have dialogue, we are able to remove the obstacles to developing mutual respect,” he said, adding that a wide range of issues had already been addressed by the Association.

“We have tackled such problems as the refusal of the government to give passports to Muslim women who do not remove their headscarves for passport photos, the continuing government censorship of religious publications, and we call on the government to keep to its international obligations,” Allahverdiyev concluded.

Rafiq Aliyev, representative of government of Azerbaijan, commented that religious freedom was improving in his country, and that the registration of the Association which has so far not been approved by the State Committee for the Work of Religious Associations would be considered.

The Azerbaijan RLA operates as a separate but affiliated organization to the International Religious Liberty Association, headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA, along with some sixty similar national and regional religious liberty associations around the world. [Jonathan Gallagher]