Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren, verehrte Gäste, liebe Freunde, Es ist mir eine groβe Ehre und Freude hier Heute zu sprechen. Heute, in einer Zeit vielfacher Krisen besteht mehr als jemals zuvor in der Geschichte der EU die Gefahrt, dass Europa zerbricht an nationalen Egoismen, an Fragen der Migration, der Sicherheit, der Religion, der Werte. Wenn es ein Wort gibt, das wir bis zur Erschöpfung wiederholen müssen, dann lautet es Dialog. Wir sind aufgefordert, eine Kultur des Dialogs zu fördern. Die Kultur des Dialogs impliziert einen echten Lernprozess, aber Dialog ohne Freiheit und Wahrheit ist wirklich unmöglich.
Ladies and Gentlemen, In the midst of current multilayer crisis – we see compounded migration crisis, security crisis with crisis of our values, the dialogue is the space where we can find an answer. It requires not uniformity, but a unity that can harmonise even divergent views. We should recall that the roots of the term religion are in latin religare, which means „to unite together“. It would then be a great error, even contradiction, to use the freedom of dialogue to create disunity; it would be a great mistake to use religion itself for a division of our people.
But freedom is more than a concept of liberty. It is also rooted in moral values and human rights. This is what Locke meant when he contrasted liberty, the freedom to do what we ought, with licence, the freedom to do what we want. I believe that the moral obligation to do what is right is the starting point for both reflection and action in the field of freedom of religion or belief.
Within this light, the Wir schaffen dass, was a moral statement meaming that we would stand firm behind our principles and values. Within international law, the UN principle of responsibility to protect marks a global political commitment endorsed by all United Nations member states to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The EU, Germany and other actors also endorsed this principle. So, in a nutshell, this is my conceptual definition of what I wish to do as a first Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the European Union. I wish actively promote dialogue, enhance our responsibility and capacity to face adequately critical internal and external situation influenced notably by the Middle East crisis.
Ladies and Gentlemen, In terms of my personal experience, you must remember that I come from the other side of the Iron Curtain. I know what it is to have no freedom of religion at all and I know what detrimental this can be, not only for individuals; lives, but also for society as a whole. After 1989 for me as a Christian Democrat religious freedom was at heart of my work. As Slovakia;s Deputy Prime Minister and EU Commissioner responsible for Education and Youth, I have worked for years to promote intercultural dialogue and to help those in need, including political prisoners in Iran, Belarus and Cuba – one of these became my „adoptive“ son – and we met after his release from prison.
So there are some heart-warming human stories of hope, but let’s make it clear; today, we face a critical situation in many countries, mainly in the Middle East. In February, this was stressed in the European Parliament resolution on the systematic mass murder of religious minorities by the so-called ‘ISIS/Daesh’ in which Parliament called for the creation of the post of a permanent Special Representative for religious freedom outside the EU, a post of which I am honored to be the first holder.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental right that is part of the foundations of the European Union. As I said earlier, freedom is understood as the liberty to do what is right, within its moral scope and dimension. When we speak about dimensions of freedom, as you suggest – freedom of speech, freedom of thought, of conscience and opinion – all of these are attributes of the same essential liberty to do what is our moral obligation. Clearly, freedom stops when it leaves the path of moral and ethical obligation and transgresses into an arbitrary ideology. Sometimes the concept slips into ideology; this misinterpretation can then lead to the greatest crimes against humanity. This is why the moral dimension of freedom is crucial.
We should clarify what is good and evil, and our current situation, the suffering and resistance of people in the Middle East – called genocide by not only the EU representatives but also our American partners – can be much better understood if we compare them with our past experience of genocides perpetrated in so many countries. German Parliament had courage to stressed this unfortunate history in conjunction with Armenian genocide and I believe, that responsible politicians will reflect the current situation as well. We cannot blind our eyes, we have a responsibility to give a proper name on mass murdering perpetrated against innocents.
We all are aware of the resistance to the Nazi German regime that created both an ideological set-up as well as the military capabilities to carry out the genocide of the Jewish people. We must not forget that notable figures of resistance, such as General de Gaulle and Winston Churchill, were, at the very beginning, hen they started to implement their ideas, in a political minority. But appeasement or populism only increases the appetite of those perpetrating crimes against humanity and against freedom.
Ladies and Gentlemen, What exactly is the task of the Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the European Union? My task as a Special Envoy was defined by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, when he stressed on 6 May, the day of my nomination, that it would sharpen our focus on this important issue and ensure its visibility. My work will clearly entail both internal and external aspects. The European Parliament recognised that the ongoing persecution of religious and ethnic groups in the Middle East is also a factor that contributes to mass migration and internal displacement. Therefore, together with the European Commissioner Neven Mimica, who is responsible for International Cooperation and Development, my priority will be to promote practical protection mechanisms for anyone that is persecuted and humanitarian aid for those in need in the most badly-affected areas.
We will work harder, together with the European Parliament, the European Commission, the EEAS, the Council and our international partners to engage in a permanent dialogue on how the EU can best contribute to the promotion of FoRB in the world. There are already several programmes and instruments to promote human rights in general and of FoRB in particular, such as the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). I will also present a report as part of the ongoing dialogue between the European Commission and churches and religious associations or communities, which is led by the First Vice-President of the Commission Frans Timmermans.
We are concerned at the rise of violence and threats in particular in Syria, Iraq, the Central African Republic, Iran, Pakistan, India and other countries. We are determined to defend religious freedom as a right to be exercised everywhere and by everyone. In multilateral fora, the EU is focused on consolidating the content of FoRB resolutions, both in the HRC and in the United Nations General Assembly. We also have to work closely with our bilateral partners such as the United States and Canada.
What is clearly needed is humanitarian aid and work in the field of education and the prevention of radicalisation, in particular among young people. In Irak, in the worst-affected areas, such as the Kurdistan Region, we have to do everything we can to ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered to all civilians and offer equal protection to all ethnic and religious communities. The ongoing battle to liberate Mosul could, according to UN estimates, create up to 1.5 million refugees. We should be prepared for this situation, which could turn into a major humanitarian crisis. Lastly, we have to work on peaceful conflict resolution and interfaith dialogue.
The European Union adopted its EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy in June 2015 stressing the importance of „ensuring that freedom of religion or belief remains high on the agenda with third countries as well as in multilateral fora“. I hope that you will support our task. I am happy to be here today, and I am confident that we will make it. Despite multiple obstacles and difficulties, we will do what is our moral and ethical duty, because without our concrete action and practical solidarity we would deny our roots and identity. Let me finish then with only one phrase – Wir schaffen das.
Thank you for your attention.
Ján Figeľ: Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU
The article is available here: http://www.euzeitung.de/2016/10/03/eu-and-freedom-of-religion-or-belief-a-new-momentum/