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Freedom of Faith a ‘Litmus Test’ for All Human Rights


The following is an address delivered by video to the UPF International Leadership Conference held in Vienna, Austria, on April 28 and 29, 2018.


Honorable President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for your invitation to the International Leadership Conference in Vienna. As I cannot be with you today, I would like to use modern technology to send you my heartfelt greetings as the European Union special envoy for freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) outside the EU.

Your conference is focusing on peace and development. We have to remember that peace is the fruit of justice. And development is another, new name for peace. Therefore sustainable development presupposes justice and fairness in the family and in society, good governance, and pursuit of the common good. In today’s world there are many leaders who claim, “my nation first,” “my country first,” “my religion first.” This easily leads to an attitude of superiority, divisions, and even conflicts.

Therefore we need more leadership and commitment oriented toward the common good. And the common good always delivers positive fruits, such as peace, justice, development, and respect for the dignity of everyone everywhere.

True human development starts with freedom, dignity and equal rights. Freedom of religion or belief is an essential human right and an expression of the deepest personal freedom—freedom of conscience. It is a litmus test for all human rights.

Three-quarters of the world’s population live in countries with high or very high restrictions to freedom of religion or belief. And the tendency is negative.

Therefore, I welcome each political, legislative, religious or social initiative supporting those who face discrimination or persecution for their faith or conviction. We need more courage and engagement to stop the century of genocides and widespread crimes against humanity.

We need more education and courage to oppose ignorance, indifference and fear. Freedom and responsibility are interdependent. These are two sides of the same coin. Freedom without responsibility will die out and cease to exist.

When I speak with religious or political leaders on the topic of freedom, I always remind them of their responsibility. Without the effective contribution and engagement of religious communities and faith-based organizations, the UN and the international community will not be in a position to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals in their entirety by 2030.

Thousands of people suffer from brutal persecution, governmental harassment and social hostilities in many countries of the world, especially in East and Southeast Asia, the Middle East and several regions of Africa. I want to invite you to spread awareness about the importance of freedom of religion or belief for all and to promote it globally. As we know, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Justice and peace in every society presuppose respect for and support of the human dignity of every person. This is the cornerstone of fundamental human rights for all. And let us remember that we best answer the growing interdependence when we think and act toward each other “in the spirit of brotherhood.” This is the best recipe for a righteous society and for true prosperity.

I wish your conference and encounters in the great city of Vienna a lot of spiritual and political inspiration and fruitful networking for a more humane world in the 21st century, for a world truly respecting the human dignity of everyone everywhere.

Thank you, and all the best to you!