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Status on the Danish initiative for the promotion of Freedom of religion or belief

Minister for Development Cooperation confirms strategy for the Danish FoRB-initiative with small adjustments

On October 8, 2019, the Minister for Development Cooperation, Rasmus Prehn, con-firmed the strategy’s five tracks and presented the new government’s adjustments to the Danish FoRB-initiative as shown below. You can access the Minister of Development Cooperation’s speech here.

Generally, the Minister emphasized that there is a need also to emphasize the “B” for Belief in FoRB. Freedom of religion or belief is a right for everyone including agnostics, humanists, and atheists.

Track 1 – Mobilisation of the international community for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief.

Track 2 – Thematic focus on the intersection of Feedom of religion or belief and Gender Equality, and Freedom of religion or belief and Responsibility to Protect (R2P), especially prevention of conflicts through cooperation with faith based actors.

Track 3 – A particular focus on the EU’s neighbourhood: The Middle East and North Africa.

Track 4 – Focus on dialogue, engagement, and cooperation with countries and faith based organisations where relevant and possible.

Track 5 – Cases of individuals persecuted for religious reasons.

Concluding, the Minister for Development Cooperation stated that freedom of religion or belief is one of Denmark’s main priorities during Denmark’s membership of the UN Human Rights Council.

  

Parliamentary debate on the status of the Danish FoRB-initiative

On February 6, 2019, the status of the Danish initiative for Freedom of religion or belief was discussed in the Danish Parliament on the basis of the attached report from the Government. In the debate, all political parties expressed their support to the approach of the Government.

The Government has since 2019 allocated 5 million DKK to concrete civil society projects by civil society actors, which can advance freedom of religion or belief and the protection of faith based minorities.

Read the debate here

 

Track 1 - Mobilisation of the international community to promote Freedom of religion or belief

As part of track one, Denmark has taken a number of actions, in the following:
 
  • As a member of the Human Rights Council during the period 2019-2021, one of Denmark's priorities is the freedom of religion or belief, which is pursued both nation-ally and in the EU and the Nordic Baltic Groups through country specific and thematic resolutions, in interactive dialogues, and in giving country specific recommenda-tions in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The following are the UPR recommendations that DK has given since 2018 concerning FoRB and the protection of faith-based minorities:
  • In collaboration with the EU and the Universal Rights Group, Denmark hosted a ‘stock-taking’ meeting to help relaunch progress in the Istanbul process, i.e. the UN in-ternational framework for combatting discrimination and intolerance based on freedom of religion or belief and for handling the balance between the resolution on defamation of freedom of expression and the defamation on FoRB. The meeting was held in April 2019 in Geneva with more than 100 participants representing over 70 countries.
  • Extended support to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the OHCHR by seconding a JPO to his team.
  • DK organized a High Level Summit on Freedom of religion or belief in Copenhagen in January 2018 with participation of most EU Member States on how to enhance the role of the EU in promoting FoRB and joint actions with the UN Special Rapporteur on FoRB. Here, the Minister for Development Cooperation launched the Danish Strategy on FoRB and protection of religious minorities, hereunder Christians.
  • DK has actively participated in the Ministerial on Freedom of religion or belief since its initiation in Washington in 2018, and subsequent meetings in 2019 in Washington, and 2020 virtually in Warsaw, Poland. The Minister for Development Cooperation (2018) and the Minister of Foreign Affairs (2019 and 2020) represented DK.  
  • As an active member of the International Contact Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief (ICG-FoRB) since 2018, DK has initiated a regular dialogue on which UN resolutions concerning countries and themes could include more language on FoRB and faith based minorities. 
  • Given that only 1-2 % of all UPR recommendations concerns FoRB, DK has since 2020 initiated a structured dialogue with likeminded countries in the ICG-FoRB on which countries could be given a FoRB-recommendation during the forthcoming UPR-examinations.
  • Contributing to the establishment of local “friendship groups” for freedom of religion or belief in different countries in order to enhance awareness, share experience, and improve local dialogue. Groups have been established in Algeria, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam. DK has taken the lead in Indonesia. 
  • Denmark, Sweden, and Norway coordinated a substantive input to the formulation of the Declaration of Principles ensuring, together with the other Scandinavian countries, that the principles of IRFBA were based on the full respect of article 18 of ICCPR and the recognition of all human rights being equally important, inseparable, and interdependent, as well as the importance of the Freedom of thought and conscience. The principles were adopted by the International Religious Freedom Alliance in February 2020. In August 2020, Denmark joined the Alliance, which then changed its name to include “or Belief”, and it was ensured that FoRB and Gender Equality would be a priority area to work on by the Alliance.
  • Together with like-minded countries, DK has ensured that Freedom of religion or be-lief is among the priorities to be promoted in the EU’s future International Develop-ment Aid legislation (NDICI), which will guide EU’s development policy and instruments in the period 2021-2027.
  • Moreover, DK has together with like-minded countries managed to secure FoRB and the protection of faith based minorities to be an explicitly mentioned priority in the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, which will guide the work of the European Commission and the European External Action Service, hereunder the EU delegations in the period 2021-27.

Track 2 – A thematic focus on the two intersections be-tween Freedom of religion or belief and Gender Equality, and Freedom of religion or belief and Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

As part of track two, Denmark has taken a number of actions, including the following:

Track 2 A: FoRB and Gender Equality:

  • Launch of a one-year International Expert Consultation Process in March 2019 to identify positive synergies and concrete examples of possible action to promote freedom of religion or belief and Gender Equality by focusing on the Sustainable Development Goals (i.e. Climate, Education, Health, and Access to Justice / Con-flict Prevention). The process was launched as part of the Danish membership of the UN Human Rights Council and it connected and mobilised a diverse group among both faith based and secular actors with participation from a number of NGOs, OHCHR, UNSR FoRB, UNFPA, and co-financed by the Government of Norway. The Danish Institute for Human Rights and the Stefanus Alliance coordinated the process and the final report “Promoting Freedom of religion or belief and Gender Equality in the Context of the Sustainable Development Goals: A Focus on Access to Justice, Education and Health” was compiled by Marie Juul Petersen from DIHR.
  • Findings and recommendations from the abovementioned final report were successfully reflected in the thematic report “Gender-based violence and discrimination in the name of religion or belief” by the UN Special Rapporteur on FoRB to the Human Rights Council in March 2020. This report was subject to an interactive dialogue with Member States and NGOs during HRC’s session in March 2020.
  • In the margins of the first Washington Ministerial on Religious Freedom in 2018, Denmark hosted a side event together with US Peace Institute on the intersection between Gender Equality and Freedom of religion or belief with participants from NGOs, religious communities, and governments.
  • Delivering the statement on FoRB and gender equality, as well as FoRB and how to promote SDG’s on behalf of the Nordic-Baltic countries at the UN General Assembly Third Committee on the Elimination of all forms of religious intolerance (Freedom of religion or belief) at the 73th session in October 2018 and at the 75th session in October 2020. You can read the statement from the 73rd session here and the 75th session here.
  • Financing the project ”Women, Religions and Human Rights” with Danmission in Lebanon. The project aims to advance women’s rights in Lebanon’s 15 personal status laws and to address the legal discrimination against women. Through value-based dialogue, the project engages religious, political/legal, and civil society ac-tors to find common ground and come up with recommendations for promoting women’s rights.
  • Together with the Netherlands, DK has taken initiative to formulate and implement a thematic work stream on FoRB and Gender Equality within the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance (IRFBA) of likeminded countries.

Track 2 B: FoRB and R2P:

  • The efforts on the thematic intersection between the freedom of religion or belief and the responsibility to protect will be enhanced by engaging with faith-based actors and their contribution to conflict-prevention and reconciliation. This will contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions.
  • Contributing actively to the collaboration between the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the EU, leading to the establishment of a UN mechanism to collect and retain evidence from possible international crimes against Rohingyas in Myanmar in 2017.
  • Financially supporting the UN’s Office on Genocide Prevention and R2P’s work to implement the UN plan of action for the role of Religious leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes. Denmark has supported the work of the Office by financing a series of country-specific or regional meetings i.e. in Sri Lanka and the Central African Republic to engage religious leaders from around the world in the prevention of incitement to violence that could lead to atrocity crimes.
  • Used the Danish TechPlomacy platform to host a high-level roundtable meeting between Facebook and key international stakeholders to discuss ways forward on how to counter online hate speech in Myanmar in the lead up to the general elections in November 2020. Parallel to this initiative, the Danish Embassy in Myanmar created a concrete project together with International Media Support, local inde-pendent media outlets, and tech-accountability organizations to help debunk disinformation and create counter narratives to hate speech in the run up to the general elections. These initiatives contribute to ensure that Myanmar does not see the same spread of racial hate speech and disinformation that was seen in the lead-up to the August 2017 Rohingya crisis.

Track 3 – A geographical focus on the immediate neighbourhood of the EU, including the Middle East and North Africa

As part of track three, Denmark has taken a number of actions, including the following:  

As part of the Danish-Arab Partnership Programme (DAPP), the Danish NGO Danmission:

  • Successfully hosted the 6th dialogue conference in Amman on the strengthening of Muslim-Christian relations, with participation from Jordan, Lebanon, Denmark, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi-Arabia with representatives from nine different religious groups, namely: Protestants, Catholics, Maronites, Orthodox, Yezidis, Sunnis, Shias, Druze, and Alawites.
  • Implemented the project “Leaders for Building Egyptian Societies” (2019-2022) through which 100 female religious leaders, Christian and Muslim, andstudents of Islamic theology are trained to promote social cohesion and peaceful coexistence in Egypt in order for them to create common projects in Kairo, suburbs of Kairo and in Al Minya District of Upper Egypt. The project is carried out with CEOSS in close cooperation with Al Azhar, the Women Council, and the three biggest Christian communities in Egypt.
  • Support work on Preventing Violent Extremism together with the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies (RIIFS) in Jordan through the project “Teachers of Tomorrow” (2018-2022). In cooperation with a scientific committee of experts and the Jordanian National Centre for Developing Curricula, the project aims to develop educational exercises to the curricular content in Jordanian schools in order to foster inclusive citizen-ship, human rights, women’s rights, freedom of religion or belief, prevention of radicalization, diversity and pluralism, and to emphasize the importance of interfaith dialogue.
  • Established the SDG 5 Workstream Alliance project (2019-2022) with reference to UN article 18 on Freedom of religion or belief in collaboration with Forum for Development, Culture, and Dialogue (FDCD). The workstream consists of Human Rights Defenders (HRD) and Faith Based Actors (FBA) gathered around the cause of advancing SDG 5 in the MENA region, and they have developed a common action plan including future objectives and recommendations.
  • With reference to Denmark’s engagement in the stabilisation of Iraq, reconciliation and trust between different religious groups have been given priority for 2019-21. Denmark, for instance, provides funding to a reconciliation project managed by the UNDP, which includes several different religious groups in the reconciliation process. Denmark also supports the UN’s Funding Facility for Stabilisation (FFS), which aims to secure the safe return of internally displaced Iraqis to their hometowns and to enable peaceful coexistence of religious and ethnic groups.

Track 4 – Dialogue, engagement and cooperation with countries and organisations, where relevant and possible

The Government changed the focus from development projects on freedom of religion or belief in four specific countries to a broader and more flexible approach to dialogue and cooperation with countries where FoRB is under pressure. The guiding principle is to open up a dialogue “where it is necessary and possible”.

As part of track four, Denmark has taken a number of actions, including the following:

  • Held dialogues with the governments, faith based organisations, and NGOs in Indonesia, Turkey and Lebanon.
  • Initiating and financing the project on “Maintaining and advocating for FoRB in Indonesia” together with Center for Church-based Development (CKU). The project strives to increase the respect, protection, and promotion of freedom of religion of belief, and to strengthen access to justice for victims of FoRB-restrictions by empowering civil society actors and human rights defenders nationally and in four selected regions of intervention.
  • Initiating and financing the project “Women, Religions and Human Rights in Lebanon” aiming at advancing women’s rights in the current 15 personal status laws and at addressing legal discrimination against women. 
  • Dialogue with representatives from King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), Muslim World League, World Lutheran Federation, Open Doors and Humanist International. 
  • Hosting two Indonesian inter-religious delegations of governmental representatives, religious scholars, religious representatives, and representatives from civil society organisations.
  • Allocating DKK 5 million in the National Budget Act of 2019 and 2020 to seed civil society projects promoting freedom of religion or belief through a Danish Civil Society Fund administered by CKU.
  • Commissioned the Danish Institute for Human Rights to draw up a report on the International Promotion of Freedom of religion or belief. The report sketches the contours of a common framework for understanding and approaching inter-national freedom of religion or belief promotion and highlights five overall recommendations for actors engaged in the international promotion of freedom of religion or belief. The recommendations have been disseminated and dis-cussed with other Governments and NGOs in international fora. It is a reference document used to discuss how to and how not to promote FoRB. 
  • Commissioned the independent consultancy group Sustainia to evaluate which type of inter-religious dialogues were most effective. The report finds it most cost-effective to promote inter-religious dialogues, which promote a specific Sustainable Development Goal and thus strive to promote common problem-solving. Read more about the report and download it here
  • Together with human rights colleagues, Danida’s Aid Management Guidelines have been revised with respect to how to make context analysis for foreign aid projects so that the seven Danish human rights priorities, including FoRB, are outlined explicitly. In this way the need to and the possibility to promote these HR priorities are explicitly taken into account in the context analysis for foreign aid to third countries.

Track 5 – Support to individuals persecuted for religious reasons

As part of track five, Denmark has taken the following actions:

  • The Danish Government has identified and begun the pursuit of a number of cases of individuals persecuted for religious or belief reasons through bilateral, EU, and multilateral cooperation. The Danish Government cannot publish which cases it chooses to pursue in consideration of the sensitive character of the cases and to protect and ensure the individuals’ best interests.

Combating antisemitism

As part of the work to combat antisemitism, Denmark has e.g. taken the following actions:

  • Attending the Remembrance of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland on January 27 2020 with two Danish Holocaust-survivors.
  • Attending the IHRA Ministerial Conference in January 2020 with participation of the foreign ministers of IHRA member countries in Brussels, Belgium. The foreign ministers adopted the IHRA 2020 Ministerial Declaration at the 20 years anniversary of the Stockholm Declaration, which is the founding document of IHRA. The declaration centred on remembering the victims who perished during the Holocaust, respecting the survivors still alive, and reaffirming humanity’s common aspiration for mutual understanding and justice.
  • Supporting the IHRA Chair’s statement on the anti-Semitic campaign by the Nordic Resistance Movement in the days leading up to Yom Kippur in October 2020.
  • Contributing to the drawing up of a draft national action plan to combat antisemitism to be launched in 2021.

The Danish Contact Forum for Freedom of religion or belief

The Danish Government launched in 2018 a Contact Forum for Freedom of religion or belief where experts and representatives from Danish faith based organisations and NGO could meet bi-annually and discuss topical issues. The Minister for Develop-ment Cooperation represents the Government in these meetings. For the content of the bi-annual meetings in the Contact Forum, please visit our webpage in Danish here.