July 10, 2018
Wilberforce A!ert: Great Britain bolsters religious freedom profile
Great Britain has raised the stakes in its work to protect and promote religious freedom at home and abroad. On July 4, Prime Minister Theresa May announced the appointment of Lord Tariq Mahmood Ahmad as the nation’s first-ever Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, a position similar to that of the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to International Religious Freedom. In this new role, Lord Ahmad is tasked with promoting the UK’s policies on religious tolerance abroad.
The appointment comes at a crucial time, too, as religious communities around the world are feeling increased pressure and enduring ever greater persecution for their faith beliefs. Last month, the Pew Research Center released a study showing a global rise in religious restrictions caused by government actions or by individuals or by societal groups.
“Freedom of Religion or Belief is a human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It must be respected,” said Lord Ahmad upon his appointment. “People from all faiths or none should be free to practice as they wish. This respect is key to global stability, and is in all our interests.”
Lord Ahmad is well suited for his new role. He currently serves as the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict and as Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the United Nations. He is a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and has expressed solidarity with religious minority groups around the world. “In too many parts of the world, religious minorities are persecuted, discriminated against and treated as second class citizens,” said Lord Ahmad. “As a man of faith, I feel this very keenly.”
The international religious freedom community has received the news of Lord Ahmad’s appointment with enthusiasm. U.S. State Department Special Advisor for Religious Minorities Knox Thames tweeted: “Very positive news from London…I look forward to continuing strong US-UK efforts for #FoRB.” The Faith Research Centre noted that creation of the special envoy position demonstrates a positive shift in European attitudes about the seriousness of religious intolerance. And Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a human rights and religious freedom organization, expressed confidence in Lord Ahmad’s mission and his concern and dedication for protecting people of all faiths.
In announcing the new special envoy position, Prime Minister May underscored the urgency for addressing religious persecution, saying, “Religious discrimination blights the lives of millions of people across the globe and leads to conflict and instability. Tolerance for those of different faiths is fundamental to our values, and is an issue I know is already of great importance to Lord Ahmad.”
Twenty years ago, the U.S. codified its commitment to international religious freedom with the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. Among other things, IRFA established the position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious freedom—a diplomatic appointment infused with the full-force and strength of the U.S. government. Great Britain now has introduced its counter-part with the appointment of Special Envoy Ahmad. For those of us who daily champion the cause of religious freedom and work to end persecution of faith communities around the world, this is welcome news.
Elisabeth Doherty, Office Director