Today, 22 August, is the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence based on Religion or Belief, so designated by the UN General Assembly in 2019. The EU High Representative has issued the following Declaration [slightly edited to remove obvious typos] on behalf of the European Union:
“On the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence based on Religion or Belief, the EU stands in solidarity with all victims of persecution, wherever they may be.
In these times of armed conflicts and humanitarian crises across the globe, individuals, including those belonging to minority groups, continue to be discriminated against, persecuted, targeted, killed, detained, expelled or forcefully displaced because of their religion or for holding humanist and /or atheist beliefs. Today is an opportunity to highlight their situation.
The EU stresses the importance of ensuring the protection of religious heritage sites and places of worship, especially when groups of people gathered in these places face threats. We strongly condemn all acts of unlawful destruction of cultural heritage, which are often committed during or in the aftermath of armed conflict around the world, or as a result of terrorist attacks, and urge all parties to armed conflicts to refrain from any unlawful military use or targeting of cultural property.
Religion cannot be used to justify human rights violations and abuses or to fuel violence. No matter where, what or why, violence, discrimination and intimidation on the grounds of religion or belief have to stop immediately.
All States should uphold freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in line with international human rights law and in particular the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Unlawful limitations should be lifted; laws criminalising apostasy and abuse of blasphemy laws must be repealed; incitement to violence or hatred, forced conversions, online and offline smear campaigns and hate speech including against persons belonging to religious or belief minorities must come to an end.
We also reiterate that criticism of beliefs, ideas, religious leaders or practices should not be prohibited or criminally sanctioned. The EU reaffirms that freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression are interdependent, interrelated and mutually reinforcing rights.
The EU protects and promotes freedom of religion or belief in all circumstances. We speak out against persecution and we include victims of religious harassment in peace-building, conflict resolution and transitional justice processes.
We will continue to provide emergency support for human rights defenders, in particular those that defend freedom of religion or belief including through our ProtectDefenders.eu mechanism. In our mediation efforts, we call on all parties involved in armed conflicts around the world to guarantee full, unhindered and unconditional access to humanitarian actors providing assistance to persons belonging to religious or belief minority groups. We encourage interreligious, interfaith and intercultural dialogue as a driver of mutual understanding, respect for diversity, peaceful coexistence and inclusive development.
As we mark the 30th anniversary of the 1992 UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, action in multilateral fora is essential. The EU continues to promote freedom of religion or belief within the United Nations and other international organisations. The EU will support and engage actively with the recently appointed UN Special Rapporteur.
Today our message is simple and clear: Every person should be guaranteed their right to have, not to have, to choose or change, to practise and manifest a religion or belief and to be free from discrimination and coercion. Victims of persecution and discrimination must not be silenced and those responsible must be held accountable.”