On Thursday, March 23, an “Exchange of Views with Special Envoy for the Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief Outside the EU” was held in the European Parliament. Mr. Ján Figel was invited to share how he interprets his mandate and to share the issues that he has been focusing on.
A current issue outside of the EU is the growing number of atheists and their lack of freedom to choose not to believe in spiritual concepts or to neglect to follow a religion. The Member of European Paliament hosting the event, Sofie in t’ Veld, shared her sense of “internal rebellion” in the discussion of Freedom of Belief because she feels as though the beliefs of atheists are excluded. She, therefore, emphasized the importance of remembering the concept of Freedom of Conscience due to the rising number of atheists worldwide. The Special Envoy agreed that Freedom of Conscience is essential, because human dignity is impossible without it, and this is the value that should unite all people, regardless of their belief. Freedom of Conscience is necessary for the achievement of basic human dignity, and Freedom of Religion and Belief can only truly occur as a result of the achievement of the Freedom of Conscience.
The position of Special Envoy for the Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief Outside the EU was created as a response to the genocide and mass atrocities occurring currently in Syria and the Middle East, as well as, the implications this is having in Europe with respect to the refugee crisis and migration. The current Special Envoy stated that, “either we do something or we’re commentators” and, therefore, his role is to bring constructive change with respect to Freedom of Religion and Belief in countries not currently displaying this. His work is based around territorial and thematic problems. Territorial focuses include, among others, the Central African Republic, Egypt, Pakistan, Morrocco; and thematic focuses include, the issue of persecution prior to conviction as seen in North Korea and non-state operates, such as, ISIS, Boko Haram, and Al Qaeda, the elimination of ‘liquidation’ due to blasphemy, or anti-conversion laws forbidding people from leaving their religion under punishment. Many of these issues revolve around the lack of freedom to choose to not ascribe to the predominant faith in a culture or geographic area.
The Special Envoy expressed his wish to focus more on concrete issues and cases and that European countries can be a model for others and should play a major role in helping other countries reach an acceptable level of Freedom of Religion and Belief by “proposing solutions, not imposing them,” and not “teaching and preaching, but offering assistance.” He emphasized the importance of promoting a fair and free state that is open to plurality in religious convictions, not dictating an ideology or replacing it.
The aim is not to share concrete faiths, but to be open and allow all individuals the freedom to subscribe to their own beliefs, and non-beliefs here included. This means that dialogue, with ensuing results, is necessary in order to make a true difference for those suffering from the inability to practice, or not practice, and express their own beliefs.