Ladies and Gentlemen,
I send my heartful greetings to Geneva from the 3rd IRF Summit in Washington DC. It is a Civil Society led global gathering on important, crucial and fundamental human rights in the current context on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB).
FoRB is an issue of life and death. It is true in the least developed countries of Africa and Asia or in the MENA region. It is true in totalitarian and autocratic countries. But regrettably, it is true also in developed democracies. We could see innocent victims of attacks in New Zealand, France, USA or Japan.
I am sure this UPF event in Geneva is a very timely contribution to the effort to analyze the situation and some worrying trends in Japan, and to contribute to the prevalence of peaceful coexistence and justice for all.
On July 8, 2022, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated. His murderer was Tetsuya Yamagami. His reason for killing Abe was that he had participated, through a video and by sending a message, to events organized by the Universal Peace Federation (UPF). UPF is an NGO connected with the Unification Church. It is now called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. UPF holds general consultative status with the United Nations.
Yamagami hated the Unification Church because, twenty years before, his mother went bankrupt, and he attributed her bankruptcy to the excessive donations she had made to that church, of which she is still a member. Almost overnight, the opponents of the Church launched a massive attack against the religious movement. Their twisted arguments persuaded most of the media and Japanese public opinion that the Unification Church was responsible for the crime. This intense agitation led to two legal initiatives. The first aimed at depriving the Unification Church/Family Federation of its status as a religious corporation. The second at amending the existing consumer protection laws to protect those who donate excessively to religious organizations. Church members are subject to attacks and discrimination.
Faith and reason, religion and science are two motors moving our societies and civilizations forward. According to the Pew Research Center in Washington DC, 84% of the global population claim a religious affiliation and the number is growing. We speak here about:
- The owerwhelming majority of the world population! The UN is here in serve all people, people with their diverse identities and justified rights.
- Peace is the fruit of justice: justice for all. The modern understanding of justice is based on the respect of fundamental human rights. Religious freedom is defined as freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. Article 18 of the UDHR is a very central right, important for both believers and non-believers, for people from A to Z (atheists to Zoroastrians).
FoRB is a litmus test for all other HRs! This is the reason for the importance and existence of the UN Special Rapporteur on FoRB. I was the first ever EU FoRB Special Envoy. After my nomination in May 2016, many similar envoys, ambassadors and governmental plenipotentiaries have been established in a dozen countries, including HU, UK, DE, NL, PL, DK, LI, EE, CZ, SK, IT…
- FoRB is under severe pressure: 79% of the global population live in countries with high or very high obstacles to RF. These obstacles are produced by social hostilities, violent extremism or terrorism or they represent government restrictions. The intensity and character of these pressures rank from intolerance through discrimination to persecution, even genocide.
We need urgent global action: FoRB climate change!
Freedom without responsibility is not sustainable, it will cease to exist. Like rights without duties, it represents one side of the coin. Whenever we speak about or demand freedom, we should dwell on responsibility as well. This was my principal attitude during my years of service when I met the highest religious representatives.
We need to listen to the representatives of the millions of people! Many of them are lifelong and influential authorities respected by their fellow believers. When they speak, the auditorium is usually crowded and attentive. In time of crisis, divisions and growing conflicts, the international community needs to engage all important forces of peace and goodwill for a more humane XXI Century.
The time is ripe for the Millennial initiative of the UN Inter-religious Assembly.
How to establish this?
One stream of action is the IRF Global Movement: Communication, cooperation and coordination among governments, parliamentarians, civil society and faith-based organizations. Since 2014: IPP FoRB, since 2018: Annual IRF Ministerial Conferences, since 2020: Int’l Religious Freedom and Belief Alliance with 40 members and observers, since 2021: Civil Society led IRF Summit based on IRF Roundtables. It is time to make the voices and actions of the FBOs more influential.
One other stream of patient effort: We need a Special Purpose Action Committee (Task Force) with expertise and trust and with a mandate to speak to decisive authorities. On one side would be the major global religions; on the other, important state and UN representatives. This idea should be explicitly supported by the religious authorities and, equally, by the newly established IRFBA Alliance and IRF Summit (Civil Society led forum), and IPP FoRB. A broadly consulted initiative and thoroughly drafted text of the UN Resolution must be tabled to the UN General Assembly by several active and committed governments.
FoRB is a very central human right. All HRs stem from human dignity, which is their foundational principle. In 2018, I helped to initiate and draft the “Punta del Este Declaration on Human Dignity for Everyone Everywhere”. It is supported by both religious and secular humanists and serves as an instrument of recommitment to the UDHR. In HD for all, dignity is the point of departure and an objective criterion of measurement!
Anybody may join the growing list of its signatories at www.dignityforeveryone.org.
I am convinced that this initiative and message can deepen respect for dignity for all in Japan and elsewhere.
Thank you for your attention. And greetings again from Washington DC.