Freedom of religion or belief, tolerance and non-discrimination are essential to ensuring peace and security in the OSCE region, participants said at the opening of a two-day OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting in Vienna last week.
The Meeting, organised by the OSCE’s 2017 Austrian Chairmanship and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), brought together representatives of governments and of civil society organisations working on issues related to the freedom of religion or belief from the organisation’s 57 participating States.
Michael Georg Link, Director of ODIHR, highlighted to meeting participants the current challenges to efforts to build flourishing, open, tolerant and inclusive societies, telling the meeting that hostile social forces, which are intolerant of and foster dangerous environments for particular religious or belief communities, endanger social peace and cohesion. Also, the practice in some OSCE participating states of limiting the free exercise of the universal human right to freedom of religion or belief to a list of religious and belief communities pre-defined and approved by the state is also of particular concern.
Director Link said: “Some participating States have gone so far as to insist that the exercise of freedom of religion or belief requires specific permission from the state, an understanding that goes against the conception of freedom of religion or belief as an inalienable right belonging to everyone, including non-believers, without distinction.”
Ambassador Clemens Koja, Chairperson of the OSCE Permanent Council and Permanent Representative of Austria to the OSCE, said that these challenges can only be addressed through a co-operative approach.
“The right to freedom of religion or belief provides an indispensable contribution toward promoting sustainable stability and security in our societies,” Ambassador Koja said. “Co-operation and dialogue is essential. Dialogue can foster respect, co-operation and lead to the much needed common understanding of these rights and freedoms, in order to strengthen our democracies and the rule of law.”
Participants representing governments, civil society and international organisations and religious or belief communities shared their experiences of creating peaceful and secure societies grounded in respect for everyone’s freedom of religion or belief. The meeting also explored the role of interfaith and interreligious dialogue and co-operation in creating the conditions for lasting security.