Josep Borrell: "EU will continue to promote and protect freedom of religion or belief"

The EU, says Josep Borrell, will continue to promote and protect freedom of religion or belief.

The High Representative was speaking on the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence based on Religion or Belief.

He said the EU "stands in solidarity with all victims of persecution, wherever they may be."

Borrell added, "In a year when, among other challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to limitations in the exercise of and put respect for human rights to a test, we continue to witness how religious intolerance leads to individuals across the world being harassed, threatened, detained, scapegoated, and killed for their religion or for holding humanist and/or atheist beliefs. Individuals have also been discriminated in accessing health services and social protection measures on religion or belief grounds.

Persecution and discrimination based on religion or belief is exacerbated by violations of governments of their international human rights obligations. Often, discrimination in law and practice leads to wider persecution.

Combatting in an impartial way, all forms of religious intolerance, stigmatisation, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief must be a priority for all States and the international community. Every person no matter where they live should be guaranteed the right to have, not to have, to choose or change, to practice and to manifest a religion or belief and to be free from discrimination.

In line with the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, the European Union works relentlessly to address violations and abuses of freedom of religion or belief. We have called on States to protect individuals from persecution and discrimination based on religion or belief, including during EU human rights dialogues with partners and in United Nations human rights fora. Through the Protect Defenders mechanism, the EU continues to provide direct support for human rights defenders at risk, advocating for freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.

Within the European Union itself, we actively fight all forms or manifestations of racism and intolerance, stigmatization of a religion, belief or non-belief, including by combatting hate crime and hate speech and by promoting education and pluralism. We also reiterate that criticism of beliefs, ideas, religious leaders or practices should not be prohibited or criminally sanctioned. The EU reaffirms that freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression are interdependent, interrelated and mutually reinforcing rights

As 2021 marks the 40th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, we reaffirm that no one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his or her freedom to have a religion or belief of his or her choice.

The EU will continue to promote and protect freedom of religion or belief. We will ensure that victims’ voices are heard and perpetrators of persecution or violence based on religion or belief are held individually accountable," the Spanish official and former MEP concluded.

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