Growing recognition that freedom of religion is essential in the effort to prevent violent extremism.


The Locarno Suite at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, scene of a conference in 0ctober 2016 on the connections between the freedom of religion or belief, the creation of more inclusive societies, and the prevention of violent extremism.


LONDON--With its high arches, ornate chandeliers, and golden-topped columns, the Locarno Suite at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office embodies the essence of the old-world establishment.

But the ideas presented there at a recent conference reflect the latest thinking about the importance of human rights in the global effort to counter violent extremism.

Held 19-20 October 2016, the conference brought together 50 experts on religious freedom and more than 100 other participants from 38 countries. The goal was to better understand how defending and promoting freedom of religion or belief might build resilience against those who seek to use religion to encourage violence and terrorism.

Of course, some governments around the world have sought to fight terrorism by cracking down on religious expression and freedom. The argument is that by repressing religious differences, hateful ideologies will be subdued.

But experts gathered here and at other recent international conferences say that upholding religious freedom promotes tolerance and inclusivity--and this, in turn, can help to short-circuit ideologies of "the other" that stand at the center of violent extremism.

"Freedom of religion or belief is fundamental to a successful society," said Baroness Anelay, the UK's Minister for Human Rights, in an opening address at the London conference. "It builds resilience against the prejudice, discrimination and persecution that not only prevents a society from achieving its full economic potential but also leaves it vulnerable to extremism."

A fundamental right

Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN in 1948, and further codified as international law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Yet for many years, FoRB was relegated to the back bench of human rights, behind concerns over protections against torture and freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention.

Increased concern about the role of religion in international affairs is causing many to re-examine the importance of FoRB.


"The issue of freedom of religion or belief, especially in...

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