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9th Meeting of the International Contact Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief

A meeting of the International Contact Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief (ICG-FoRB) was convened on March 6, 2019, in Geneva on the margins of the 40th session of the Human Rights Council. Hosted by the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations, the meeting was co-chaired by Canada and the United States.

The ICG-FoRB is a cross-regional and informal network created to enhance information sharing and cooperation between governments, and to discuss joint advocacy strategies to protect and promote Freedom of Religion or Belief internationally.

Reaffirming their commitment to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the meeting saw the participation of 19 countries from diverse regions including, Europe, the Americas and Asia, as well as representatives of the European Union and United Nations.

In this meeting, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, presented some key points from his latest report on the United Nations Human Rights Council web site (A/HRC/40/58), in which he explored Freedom of Religion or Belief and Freedom of Expression as two closely inter-related and mutually reinforcing rights. He also highlighted concerns about blasphemy laws and proposed avenues to reduce abuses.

Recognizing the importance of partnering with civil society, the Contact Group meeting also welcomed the participation of guest speakers Dennis de Jong, Member of European Parliament and co-chair of the inter-group on FoRB; Diane Ala’i of the Baha’i International Community, and Elizabeth O’Casey of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, both representing the NGO Committee on FoRB in Geneva; Dr. Cole Durham of Brigham Young University to discuss the Tokyo G20 Interfaith Forum; Liv Kvanvig of the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB), and; Sir Charles Hoare, Private Consultant assisting with the UK government review of Christian persecution.

The Group addressed the state of Freedom of Religion or Belief in various countries, with a particular focus on China, Iran, Yemen, Russia and Pakistan, and also continued its examination of how the promotion of FoRB provides an avenue for the advancement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

The Contact Group also commended efforts to establish local “Friends of FoRB” groups in various countries. Such groups bring together local representatives from diplomatic missions of ICG-FoRB countries to discuss issues related to Freedom of Religion or Belief in specific country contexts.

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