NGOs in Partnership with International Parliamentarians

LONG READ: “NGOs in Partnership with International Parliamentarians” is the speech delivered by CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth’s (FCO) Conference,  ‘Preventing violent extremism by building inclusive and plural societies: How freedom of religion or belief can help’, 19 -20 October 2016. 


As we’ve already heard today, the fundamental human right to Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), embedded in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is one that at first can appear daunting and difficult to raise. Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, UN Special Rapporteur on FoRB has said that “it is the most challenging of all human rights, it is the spice in the soup of human rights.” However, although daunting it is extremely important to intensify our joint efforts to promote it.

The latest information from the Pew Research Center stated that in 2014, 74% or roughly ¾ of the world’s population, live in countries with either high or very high restrictions on religious freedom. That means that over 5.1 billion people in this world are not able to fully recognise their inalienable human right to practice or change the religion or belief system of their choice.

Furthermore, FoRB is part and parcel of peace and stability; a cornerstone of democratic societies, and it can provide an important antidote to rising violent extremism. High-levels of discrimination based on religion or belief and FoRB restrictions can undermine peaceful development and in fact increase the grounds for the rise of extremism.

It is clear that some of the most significant foreign affairs challenges the international community are currently grappling with, involve violent extremism, and many of the challenges are deeply rooted in violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief.

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Can the UN be true to its democratic principles without reforming the NGO Committee?

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Broad participation and representation, including vibrant civil society participation, are essential prerequisites for democratic development. However, as the United Nations (UN) marks the International Day of Democracy today, it is clear that the UN system faces severe internal challenges on this front.

Importance of ECOSOC NGO Committee

The access a number of NGOs have to the UN has been continuously blocked by the The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Committee on NGOs through arbitrary deferrals and denial of ECOSOC consultative status.

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Vietnam: Social Media as a Catalyst For Change

“What do you think is religious freedom?”

That’s the question posed in a video by the Association to Protect Freedom of Religion (APFOR), a Vietnamese organisation which aims to help “everyone in Vietnam fulfil their right to freedom of religion”.

By Hội Bảo Vệ Quyền Tự Do Tôn Giáo – What do you think is religious freedom

“A fundamental human right,” says one young interviewee.

“People have the right to express their beliefs and live according to certain religious doctrines,” comments another, this time a mechanic.

“True freedom of religion means different religions can be spread,” adds a construction worker.

The video goes on to include comments from independent researchers, legal professionals and religious followers, ending with an invitation to the viewer to share her or his own thoughts on Facebook.

APFOR have since produced another video, equally well-made and insightful, this time looking at a new draft law on religion and belief which is likely to be passed in Vietnam in 2016.

By Hội Bảo Vệ Quyền Tự Do Tôn Giáo – The right to religion, have to wait for approval?

Vietnam’s controversial draft Law on Belief and Religion

This second video was posted on Facebook in November 2015, just as the draft law was being debated at the National Assembly. It’s already proving to be a controversial issue. In a welcome move towards some degree of engagement, the government solicited feedback on the fourth draft of the law from religious organisations in spring 2015. The Government Religious Committee held several meetings with registered religious groups to discuss the law, and unregistered or independent groups have also publicised their analysis of the draft law, as have Vietnamese lawyers and international civil society organisations.

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