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Religion and religious freedom in changing world

Video Speech for ASEAN Conference in Manila, the Philippines

Distinguished Manila Conference Participants and Guests,

First, I want to thank for the invitation. I wished to be with you in Manila but after the change of originally scheduled date I could not come.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Religion is with the humankind since the beginning of history. It connects man with his beliefs, with transcendence, but also relates and unites (latin religare) with others into a faith community.

84 % of the world population claim religious affiliation; this is an overwhelming majority.

FoRB is a litmus test of all human rights. It covers freedom of thought, conscience, religion, conviction and other freedoms. As the expansive right, it relates to freedom of assembly, association, expression. FoRB covers also non-believers and right to conversion. It can be implemented individually and collectively as well. Respect of HRs is not possible without respecting FoRB. All dictators, all terrorists are happy, when FoRB is restricted or non-existing. Four most inhumane dictators of 20 Century bloodily oppressed and violated FoRB - Hitler, Stalin, Mao-Ze Dong, Pol Pot. Half of my life I lived under totalitarian, atheistic Communist regime. I can tell you that FoRB is important not for religion to survive but for the good governance, justice and social life in peace and dignity for all!

Unfortunately, FoRB is under growing pressure, indicators are worsening. Let me share with you a reminder quoting recent statistic by the Pew Research Centre:

  • In 2015 40% of countries had high or very high levels of restrictions, but they represent 74% of the world population!

  • The percentage of countries with high or very high levels of social hostilities increased,

  • Growing and widespread is government harassment of religious groups,

  • Government use of force against religious groups increased as well

  • Non-state militant actors are growing in numbers and horrible consequences[4] : Taliban, ISIS, Al Nusra, Boko Haram...

The critical situation of religious minorities is in many regions and countries of the world (North Korea, Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Myanmar,...) There are new worrying trends in Indonesia, India, Philippines, new concerns over Russia, which recently banned activities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The recent Report of the UN rapporteur on FoRB (A. Shaheed) draws our attention on the following:

• Almost half of countries have laws penalizing blasphemy, apostasy or defamation of religion.

• In 22 countries, there still is a use of death penalty for apostasy, in at least 13 countries a capital punishment for atheists.

The scale of FoRB restrictions goes from intolerance through discrimination, persecution up to genocide.

Main messages:

1) FoRB situation is critical in many parts of the world, and

2) Trends are negative

Moreover: Migration (voluntary and forced) has reached record high numbers

WORLD IS REALLY CHANGING! If we want to improve the global situation and global trends, we need to embrace credible change: to overcome ignorance and illiteracy, prejudices, divisions and work for peace, justice, sustainable development and human dignity for all and everywhere.

War crimes, crimes against humanity and even genocides accuse dictators and authoritarian regimes, but in some way also entire international community - from inefficiency, from slow or no action whatsoever.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Evil has strong, influential allies, well placed everywhere. We all know them very well. Tree evil-allies are decisive:

IGNORANCE - When we do not know and are not interested to know.

INDIFFERENCE - If we do not care.

FEAR - When we are scared, afraid to say or to do anything on behalf of voiceless or defenseless people, in favor of truth, justice and humanity.

Here I see special role of RBO, civil society, state institutions and families.

First, we should not fail – as we did in the past - to deliver on our promises, commitments, duties, responsibilities, to abandon again the persecuted, accept impunity of criminals. Human rights will not work without responsible international community, mature citizenship and vigilant institutions of law enforcement.

Therefore, we have to invest into and support civic EDUCATION and ETHICS OF RESPONSIBILITY. These are antidotes of ignorance, indifference and fear.



I am convinced, for example, that without a strong contribution of faith-based actors we cannot fulfill objectives of UN SDGs 2030.

WHEN I speak about FREEDOM, I always mean RESPONSIBLE, MATURE FREEDOM. Freedom without responsibility will not work or exist. Three points I would like to suggest:

a) Common good instead of superiority and supremacy

Win-win policy instead of winner takes all is the approach to be preferred if we want to achieve better, more humane century. Principle of common good leads from Common Ground - Common Interests - Common Victory and Future

The mentality of superiority (s. of my nation, my country, my religion, my race, my tribe ...) tends towards politics of supremacy, in worse case even to ideology of superiority. From an ideology, there is a shortcut to prejudices, unequal treatment, hatred and violence.

b) From politics of identities to politics of responsibilities

I am convinced that the amalgamation of terrorism and religion is wrong, and no Holy Scripture or religious tradition should be held accountable for the horrible actions some fanatic and obscure militant groups perpetrate in the name of that religion.

However, words of political leaders do not hold the same authority as the public statements of faith leaders when they publicly denounce political violence perpetrated in the name of God. (E.g., Pope Francis, Grand Mufti Al Tayyib of Al Azhar, DalaiLama and others on their levels).This is a shared responsibility, a goal we will only achieve working together - religious leaders, political decision-makers, lawmakers, judges, academics, journalists, civil society activists.

c) Fair civic state preserving peace, security, justice and good governance for all is needed

As religions are moving, societies changing, we indeed need to learn how to deal with cultural, ethnic and religious diversity. How to build cohesive and respectful societies. We need to learn TO LIVE IN DIVERSITY, not only to exist in diversity.

Religious literacy is a must for a shared society, a necessary competence for a good education and mature citizenship. Because uniformity and ignorance breeds intolerance. And from intolerance, there is a very short connection to radicalization and violent extremism. This we have to keep in mind especially with our children and young generation. There are many inspiring examples of successful educational and youth initiatives aimed at deradicalization.

Therefore, I welcome your professional commitment for FoRB promotion in SE Asian countries. I appreciate your international cooperation and spirit of shared responsibility. With many like-minded people, we welcome the Marrakesh and Beirut Declarations as well. We need to translate these positive commitments into daily life of people.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The international community is determined to fight for freedom of religion. There are new signs coming from the EU, UN, OSCE, and International Parliamentarians Platform for FoRB, Commonwealth Initiative on FoRB, democratic countries, NGOs, advocacy and CSOs. We are convinced that religion is, in itself, a force for good; we know that the wide majority of the religious faithful are peace-loving, respectful of other peoples’ rights and fundamental liberties.

We, in European Union, strongly believe that it is possible to turn the situation around.

The World is indeed changing, and change as well brings with it a worrying level of uncertainty, even conflict. However, there is one thing that should not change - our shared commitment to upholding human dignity for all and everywhere and to protect fundamental human rights.

I thank you all for your work and cooperation on this and I wish you successful conference days.

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