International Contact Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief (ICG-FoRB)
The International Contact Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief was established by Canada in June 2015 to encourage and deepen coordination between countries fully committed to advancing freedom of religion or belief around the world.
Co-chaired by Canada and the United States, it is a forum for government representatives to discuss ways in which they can work together to promote respect for freedom of religion or belief and to advocate for members of religious minority groups worldwide.
Participants are committed to the Universal Declaration or Human Rights, in particular Article 18, which states everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion Footnote 1.
Promoting freedom of religion or belief
The International Contact Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief differentiates itself from other international forums by providing an informal space for states to:
- exchange information and best practices
- discuss emerging issues
- initiate early warnings of looming crises
Participants promote freedom of religion or belief by:
- coordinating joint advocacy, policy and programming responses to issues related to freedom of religion or belief
- creating Friends of Freedom of Religion or Belief groups for localized efforts in countries of engagement
Participation in any proposed joint initiative is voluntary, and actions are not taken in the name of the International Contact Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief as a whole. As such, it is not a consensus-based or membership body.
Participant countries propose specific areas of focus and action, such as:
- addressing legal and state-sanctioned discrimination against members of religious/secular minorities, including blasphemy and apostasy laws
- promoting the interrelated and mutually reinforcing rights to freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, and non-discrimination
- opposing sectarian violence
- highlighting linkages between gender equality and freedom of religion or belief
The International Contact Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief meets twice yearly in New York and Geneva on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Human Rights Council, respectively. Meetings are also held on an ad hoc basis, both virtually and in person, often to address urgent situations of concern. While all meetings are co-chaired by Canada and the United States, meetings are regularly hosted by other participating countries.
The 25th meeting of the Contact Group took place on June 9, 2023.
The International Contact Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief brings together a diverse group of nearly 30 countries and international organizations committed to protecting and promoting freedom of religion or belief, as defined by Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The primary participants in the Contact Group are capitals-based representatives from foreign ministries or other ministries with responsibility for freedom of religion or belief. The Contact Group aims to bring together countries reflecting a cross-section of geographical regions of the world. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief regularly participates to offer expertise and provide updates on their mandate.
Representatives of civil society and relevant subject-matter experts are regularly invited to present findings and recommendations to the group on issues related to freedom of religion or belief.
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