Human rights

Markus Grübel presents report showing increasing restrictions on freedom of religion worldwide


Press release of 28.10.2020 |

BERLIN – The human right to freedom of religion and belief is increasingly being restricted and challenged worldwide. This is one key message of the Federal Government's Second Report on the Global Status of Freedom of Religion. The Report was officially presented to the public today by Markus Grübel, Member of the German Bundestag and Federal Government Commissioner for Global Freedom of Religion, and his fellow parliamentarian, Dr Bärbel Kofler, the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance. Archbishop Ludwig Schick and the Yazidi human rights activist Olivia Elias told of their own experiences regarding freedom of religion.

Markus Grübel said: "Freedom of religion and belief is a fundamental human right. This right is increasingly being restricted and challenged. Three-quarters of the world's population live in countries that restrict their freedom of religion and belief. And, in recent years, we have observed a rise in such restrictions. Christians, as the world's largest religious community, are particularly affected. But followers of other religions and beliefs are also experiencing discrimination and persecution.

"The Report adopted today by the German Cabinet is the fundamental document to guide our efforts to strengthen freedom of religion and belief worldwide. It highlights instances of systematic repression in numerous countries, for example in China, where the situation of the Uyghurs, who are Muslims, is particularly dramatic. I want to see the United Nations issuing independent reports on the situation of Uyghurs and the European Union engaging in serious dialogue with China about issues concerning the freedom of religion and belief.

"Through its efforts for freedom of religion and belief throughout the world, the German government is working to strengthen human rights in general, and to support the potential which religious communities have to foster peaceful coexistence among people and to boost sustainable development.

"I shall continue to champion dialogue, international networking and research into the freedom of religion or belief. And I intend to use my office in order to ensure that freedom of religion and belief is given greater support in policy programmes so that concrete measures targeted at enhancing freedom of religion can be developed and implemented. For example, in Iraq I saw Christians, Yazidis and Sunnis working together to foster reconciliation. These are small steps towards peace and freedom – which have a huge impact beyond the region itself."

German Development Minister Gerd Müller said: "Religious freedom is an inalienable human right - and one that we need to protect worldwide. The world religions share common values such as peace, tolerance, respect for each individual's human dignity and the integrity of creation. These fundamental tenets must form the basis of a shared global ethic, enabling us to work together to master the global challenges ahead. However, the Report indicates that the freedom of religion and belief is under threat worldwide. Christians, the world's largest religious community, are most severely affected by persecution und discrimination. However, followers of all religions and beliefs are facing increasing violence. In northern Iraq, for example, I spoke to traumatised Yazidi women who had escaped from the rape camps set up by the IS terrorists. And the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority, too, illustrates that we must not stand idly by when we see terrible acts of repression. One million people have fled from Myanmar and now live under catastrophic conditions.

"That is why, as part of our 'BMZ 2030' reform process, we are stepping up our calls for measurable results on good governance and human rights, such as the freedom of religion. In countries where no progress is made on this over long periods, we do not simply continue our government-to-government cooperation but, instead, shift our focus to strengthening civil society and supporting the humanitarian work carried out by the churches. That is why we have ended our direct cooperation with the Government of Myanmar and are concentrating our efforts on supporting the refugee camps in Bangladesh."

Dr Bärbel Kofler added: "Worldwide, we are seeing human rights coming under increasing pressure from authoritarian systems. But human rights are universal and indivisible. We therefore have to stand together to defend them. And this of course includes the right to freedom of religion and belief."

The Federal Government's Report on the Global Status of Freedom of Religion consists of a country section and a thematic section. The country section reports on thirty countries in which there were developments of particular interest during the two years under review, 2018 to 2019. It shows, for example, that even after the collapse of the IS terror regime the situation in Iraq for religious minorities continues to be precarious, and that Iraqis belonging to the Yazidi or Christian communities are returning to their home region only very slowly.

However, the Report also highlights some positive developments. In Sudan, for example, apostasy was recently decriminalised, and Christmas was declared a national holiday.

The Report also looks into three specific areas where freedom of religion and belief is being particularly severely restricted. These are:

  1. Blasphemy and anti-conversion laws. More than 70 countries have blasphemy laws that violate human rights. The laws in question often serve to discriminate against religious minorities and to restrict freedom of opinion and expression. Many countries also have laws that curtail a person's right to convert to a different religion or belief.
  2. ​Digital communication. Online hate speech has a devastating effect on the freedom of religion and belief. Often it is linked with events in the real world and fans the flames of existing conflicts. In Myanmar, for example, hate speech targeting the Rohingya people was spread via the social media, exacerbating ethnic tensions.
  3. ​State education systems. Governments also often restrict the freedom of religion and belief in their education sectors, a policy that violates human rights.

You can download the Federal Government's Second Report on the Global Status of Freedom of Religion here (in German).

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