Notice: Undefined index: et_header_layout in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1345

Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1345

Notice: Undefined index: et_header_layout in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1346

Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1346

Notice: Undefined index: et_template in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1347

WORLD: Children in armed conflicts, the UN and the European Union

Children in armed conflicts, the UN and the EU

By Willy Fautré

European Times (04.12.2023) – In 2022, a total of 2,496 children, some as young as 8-years-old, were verified by the United Nations as detained for their actual or alleged association with armed groups, including groups designated as terrorists by the U.N. The highest numbers were recorded in Iraq, in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in the Syrian Arab Republic.

These figures were highlighted by Anne Schintgen at the European Parliament during a conference titled “Children Deprived of Liberty in World” organised on 28 November by MEP Soraya Rodriguez Ramos (Political Group Renew Europe). A number of high-level experts had been invited as panelists to speak about their respective areas of expertise:

Manfred Nowak, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and an independent expert that led the elaboration of a UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty;

Benoit van Keirsbilck, a member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child;

Manu Krishan, Global Campus on Human Rights, researcher with expertise in children’s rights and best practices;

Anne Schintgen, Head of the European Liaison Office of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict;

Rasha Muhrez, Syria Response Director for Save the Children (online);

Marta Lorenzo, Director of the UNRWA Representative Office for Europe (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East).

UN Report on Children in Armed Conflict

Manfred Nowak, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and an independent expert that led the elaboration of a UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, was invited to the conference at the European Parliament and stressed that 7.2 million children are in various ways deprived of freedom in the world.

He referred in particular to the report of the UN Secretary General about children in armed conflict addressed to the 77th Session of the UN General Assembly Security Council (A/77/895-S/2023/363) on 5 June 2023, which was saying:

“In 2022, children continued to be disproportionately affected by armed conflict, and the number of children verified as affected by grave violations increased compared with 2021. The United Nations verified 27,180 grave violations, of which 24,300 were committed in 2022 and 2,880 were committed earlier but verified only in 2022. Violations affected 18,890 children (13,469 boys, 4,638 girls, 783 sex unknown) in 24 situations and one regional monitoring arrangement. The highest numbers of violations were the killing (2,985) and maiming (5,655) of 8,631 children, followed by the recruitment and use of 7,622 children and the abduction of 3,985 children. Children were detained for actual or alleged association with armed groups (2,496), including those designated as terrorist groups by the United Nations, or for national security reasons.”

The mandate of the UN Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict

The Special Representative who is currently Virginia Gamba serves as the leading UN advocate for the protection and well-being of children affected by armed conflict.

The mandate was created by the General Assembly (Resolution A/RES/51/77) following the publication, in 1996, of a report by Graça Machel titled the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children. Her report highlighted the disproportionate impact of war on children and identified them as the primary victims of armed conflict.

The role of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict is to strengthen the protection of children affected by armed conflict, raise awareness, promote the collection of information about the plight of children affected by war and foster international cooperation to improve their protection.

Detention of children in Iraq, DR Congo, Libya, Myanmar Somalia

Six grave violations affecting children in times of conflict were highlighted by Anne Schintgen, a member of the conference panel: recruitment and use of children for combating, killing and maiming children, sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals, abduction and denial of humanitarian access.

Additionally, the UN is monitoring the detention of children for their actual or alleged association with armed groups.

In this regard, she named a number of countries of particular concern:

In Iraq in December 2022, 936 children remained in detention on national security-related charges, including for their actual or alleged association with armed groups, primarily Da’esh.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN verified in 2022 the detention of 97 boys and 20 girls, between the ages of 9 and 17, for their alleged association with armed groups. All children have been released.

In Libya, the UN received reports of the detention of some 64 children, with their mothers, of several nationalities, for their mothers’ alleged association with Da’esh,

In Myanmar, 129 boys and girls were detained by the national armed forces.

In Somalia, a total of 176 boys, of which 104 were released and 1 was killed, were detained in 2022 for their alleged association with armed groups.

Children should be primarily considered as victims of violations or abuses of their rights rather than as perpetrators and a security threat, Anne Schintgen said, stressing that the detention of children for their alleged association with armed groups is an issue in 80% of the countries covered by the UN Children and Armed Conflict mechanism.

Deportation of Ukrainian children by Russia

During the debate following the presentations of the panelists, the issue of the deportation of Ukrainian children by Russia from the Occupied Territories was raised. Both Manfred Nowak and Benoit Van Keirsblick, a member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child invited as a panelist, expressed their deep concerns about this situation.

In a report titled “Ukrainian Children in Search of Way Home from Russia” published in three languages (English, Russian and Ukrainian) on 25 August 2023, Human Rights Without Frontiers stressed that the Ukrainian authorities had a nominative list of about 20,000 children deported by and to Russia who are now being russified and educated in an anti-Ukrainian mindset. However, many more have been taken away from the territories occupied by Russia.

As a reminder, on 17 March 2023, the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova on their responsibility in the deportation of Ukrainian children.

A call for the EU

The experts invited to the conference encouraged the European Union to ensure that the topic of conflict affected children is systematically integrated and advanced in its wide range of external actions.

They also urged the EU to include the issue of the detention of children for their alleged association with armed groups in its Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict that are currently being revised.

And MEP Soraya Rodriguez Ramos concluded by saying “The parliamentary own-initiative report that I am leading and which will be voted on December’s plenary session is an opportunity to give visibility to the suffering of millions of children deprived of liberty in the world and to call the international community for action and the effective commitment to put an end to it.”

Photo credit: @UNRWA_EU

Notice: Undefined index: et_header_layout in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1345

Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1345

Notice: Undefined index: et_header_layout in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1346

Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1346

Notice: Undefined index: et_template in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1347

EU: Antisemitism in Europe reaching levels unseen in decades, says top Rabbi

Photo : Antisemitic and anti-Muslim acts in France (screenshot LCI)

EU: Antisemitism in Europe reaching levels unseen in decades, says top Rabbi

By Maria Psara

EURONEWS (25.10.2023) – European Jews are afraid following a spike in antisemitic attacks sparked by the latest Israel-Hamas war despite authorities increasing protection, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the chairman of the European Jewish Association, has told Euronews.


The Rabbi said the increase in such incidents, which include physical and verbal aggression, is something that has not been seen for decades.


“We do get a lot of information, a lot of calls, a lot of emails from Jewish people from Europe, both individuals in the institutions, synagogues, schools,” Margolin told Euronews.


“People see in the street that they get much more remarks, many more bad looks, hatred, looks and call for death and physical incitement.”


According to figures compiled by the Anti-Defamation League and released on Tuesday, nearly 590 antisemitic incidents have been reported to French police since October 7, when Hamas launched a deadly attack against Israel. In Germany, the number of such incidents has risen by 240% compared to the same period last year, while in Austria they have gone up by 300%.


Some of the incidents listed include the destruction of Israeli flags, the vandalisation of Jewish monuments and sites, graffiti, and death threats.


The Rabbi said that many people are now taking extra precautions to protect their families from hate crimes.


“There are many, many people now who will secure their doors, install cameras, change the windows to bulletproof windows,” he explained.


“They tried to fireproof doors and yet many people know it is not enough.”


As the chairman of the European Jewish Association explained, the main tool for hate messages is social media. He wants better editorial control to be exerted over such content and for better education against racism.


The European Commission has raised concerns about the increase in hate speech and hate crimes targeting both Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe and has made their safety a top priority.

Further reading about FORB in the EU on HRWF website

Notice: Undefined index: et_header_layout in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1345

Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1345

Notice: Undefined index: et_header_layout in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1346

Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1346

Notice: Undefined index: et_template in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1347

AZERBAIJAN-ARMENIA: The EU and Azerbaijan: Time to Talk Tough

The EU and Azerbaijan: Time to Talk Tough

By launching a military offensive in Nagorny Karabakh, President Aliyev forfeited the trust of Europeans. Azerbaijan’s status as a transport hub cannot be a reason for the EU to go soft on Baku.

By Thomas De Waal

Carnegie Europe (26.09.2023) – The events of the last week are triggering a debate on the need for a deep reset of Europe’s policy toward Azerbaijan.

It’s all about Karabakh, but it’s even bigger than that.

On September 19, Azerbaijan used military force to retake the Armenian-populated territory of Nagorny Karabakh, crossing a red line drawn for it by both the European Union and the United States.

The consequences are cataclysmic. The eventual casualties will run into the hundreds. Fearful for their future, thousands of Karabakh Armenians are now making a mass tragic exodus from their homeland to Armenia.

Many in Brussels and Washington feel shocked and betrayed by Azerbaijan’s use of force. Up until the last minute, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was reportedly assuring high-level interlocutors—including European Council President Charles Michel and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken—that he would not launch a military operation.

At the United Nations, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, said it most clearly: “Baku broke its repeated assurances to refrain from the use of force, causing tremendous suffering to a population already in dire straits.”

An egregious aspect of this is that Azerbaijan was getting pretty much everything it wanted at the negotiating table. After years of deadlock and many equivocations, the Karabakh Armenians had agreed to talks with Baku, which would have resulted in a deal on some kind of integration into Azerbaijan. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had acceded to the international norm in acknowledging Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, including Nagorny Karabakh.

So it can’t be business as normal. The human rights issue is now crucial. Baku says that it is in full control of the region and that remaining Armenians have nothing to fear. Yet that is not how bitterly contested ethnic conflicts are fought, when armed groups are sent into civilian areas. There many reports of abuses by Azerbaijani soldiers coming from Armenian sources.

Having thus far rejected efforts to send in an international monitoring mission to the region, Baku bears a great responsibility here. It is not so easy to hide war crimes in the digital age. If atrocities are confirmed in Baku’s war of choice or remaining Karabakhis suffer abuse, there should be calls for prosecution of the abusers concerned, along with cases in the European Court of Human Rights.

The geopolitical implications of this are also significant.

The fact that Western actors were blindsided strengthens the supposition that Aliyev cleared his military assault in advance with Moscow—which then failed to condemn Baku—and is coming into closer alignment with Russia. That is all the more relevant as the next big issue is the planned transport route across Armenia to Azerbaijan’s exclave of Nakhchivan. Russia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey all have a shared interest in imposing their own version of what the latter two call the Zangezur Corridor with as little Armenian control of the route as possible—and perhaps by force.

Aliyev has also started to use the irredentist term “Western Azerbaijan” to describe Armenia. Its southern Syunik province, also known as Zangezur, had a substantial Azerbaijani population in the early twentieth century. Last December Aliyev designated the creation of a “West Azerbaijani community” and said “they must be able to return to their native lands.”

Aliyev qualified that this return would happen “peacefully.” But after what happened in Karabakh, how seriously can reassurance be taken?

There is a context, of course, that Azerbaijan has been a victim too. Azerbaijanis have compelling stories to tell about the 1990s that many do not know—and which I tried to tell in my book Black Garden. In the first Karabakh war, both sides committed acts of ethnic cleansing, but Azerbaijan undoubtedly came off worse. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people driven from lands captured by Armenian forces deserved sympathy—probably more sympathy than they often got internationally.

That’s a reason to avoid the civilizational discourse that still lingers in some European circles, especially in France and on the Christian right, who say Azerbaijanis are somehow inherently genocidal.

But after the 2020 war, when Azerbaijan recovered its lands by force, the “occupation” excuse lost its relevance. When statesmanship was called for, President Aliyev stayed aggressive. In May this year he gave a bellicose speech in which he told the Armenians that they should either “bend their necks” in defeat or face worse consequences.

Aggression continues on the home front, too. Azerbaijan’s democracy ranking with Freedom House is rock-bottom. In July the well-known economist and opposition activist Gubad Ibadoghlu, linked to U.S. universities and the London School of Economics, was arrested on palpably bogus charges and is now in ill health in detention.

Baku’s main sales pitch in the West is about business and geography—its status as the only country located between Russia and Iran with east-west oil and gas and transport infrastructure as a link in the so-called Middle Corridor.

In Western capitals this frequently produced a silo effect. One part of the establishment—in the Brussels case, Michel and the European External Action Service—would press for peacemaking and resolution of the conflict with Armenia. Another—the European Commission in Brussels—would hold talks with Baku on energy and transport projects.

In an ill-conceived act of public diplomacy in July 2022, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen went to Baku, struck a deal with the EU’s “partner” Azerbaijan to provide extra volumes of gas to the EU, and did not even mention the words “conflict,” “peace,” or “Armenia” in public.

Azerbaijan will always be a transport hub, but there are two caveats to the pitch. First, experts conclude that the EU gas deal is very unlikely to deliver the promised high volumes of gas—a declining asset in the green transition anyway. To achieve export levels of more than 3 or 4 billion cubic meters would require upgrading infrastructure and confronting the often-overlooked fact that Russia and Iran are also stakeholders in the South Caucasus gas pipeline.

Secondly, connectivity and conflict are inextricably linked. The Middle Corridor route, running from China through Central Asia to Europe via the South Caucasus, is a multi-country route that also involves Armenia. It needs regional cooperation to work—and almost certainly funding from Western governments and international financial institutions.

In short, it is time for the EU to talk a lot tougher with Azerbaijan.

Photo credits: Carnegie Europe


Notice: Undefined index: et_header_layout in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1345

Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1345

Notice: Undefined index: et_header_layout in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1346

Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1346

Notice: Undefined index: et_template in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1347

EUROPEAN UNION: The EU and transitional justice for ending impunity

The EU and transitional justice

Speech delivered on 28 July 2023 at a conference about Transitional Justice at the National 228 Memorial Museum

By Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers

HRWF (02.08.2023) – Ending impunity for serious crimes against human rights and humanitarian norms is an important EU and UN objective. It is essential in overcoming the legacy of past conflicts and in building the basis of stable, peaceful societies, as shown by the experience of societies that have taken the democratic path in recent decades.

Historical background

The field of transitional justice emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in response to the political transitions that took place during that time in Latin America and Eastern Europe.

The implementation of transitional justice measures depended on the national context, varying greatly, e.g. among former communist regimes. Today, the focus of transitional justice mechanisms has moved to countries afflicted by conflicts in Africa and Asia.

The International Criminal Court (ICC), established in 2002, aims to complement national systems where these are unable to bring to justice for serious crimes those in the highest positions of responsibility.

Transitional justice aims both at holding those responsible for serious crimes to account, at providing redress to victims, as well as at building fairer and resilient justice systems able to secure reconciliation and the transition to democracy. It includes several measures:

Prosecution of leaders and high officials of former regimes: Communist leaders in some eastern European countries and leaders of military juntas in Latin America faced justice in their countries: in Argentina (with a verdict in 1985) or in Guatemala where the verdict was finally invalidated in 2013 .

In other cases, former president of Serbia died before his conviction and former president of Côte d’Ivoire was acquitted after standing trial in international tribunals.

Prosecution took place independently of rank, of perpetrators of grave crimes, particularly genocide: Rwanda. (1994).

Lustration policies included vetting procedure before holding public office. These were central to the efforts of former communist countries in Europe (such as Germany, Czechia and Estonia), in overcoming their past and building stable democracies, but they were not free of judicial controversy regarding the concordance of lustration laws with human rights.

Truth initiatives ranged from the opening of secret services archives (as in former communist countries) to the Truth Commission in South Africa, (1995), while in Cambodia in 1995, a NGO assumed the task of preserving the memory of genocide.

Rehabilitation and redress for those convicted on political grounds or for persecuted groups.

Amnesty: This is the most controversial approach to transitional justice, as it precludes justice for victims, but it can be instrumental in ending bloody conflict. However, amnesty cannot apply in serious crimes against humanity and other similar crimes, as made clear in a number of landmark decisions of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In Latin America, amnesty was granted broadly to allow transition, but amnesty laws were later struck down for grave crimes in Argentina (2003), Guatemala (1996) or Peru (2019), although not in Brazil.

European Union action

The EU is an important player in the field of transitional justice. It has developed a comprehensive approach to help non-EU countries implement transitional justice.

Closing the accountability gap, fighting impunity and supporting transitional justice is among the priorities of the EU action plan on human rights and democracy for 2020-2024.

An EU policy framework on support to transitional justice provides guidance for both EU institutions and Member States, based on the main UN elements :

  • in terms of criminal justice: the EU supports

the reform of national criminal legislation and alternative ways (mediation or traditional courts) to provide justice;

  • in terms of search for truth: the EU promotes truth-seeking initiatives based on international law and best practice;
  • in terms of reparations: the EU encourages a participatory, victim-focused approach to reparations;
  • in terms of guarantees of non-recurrence/institutional reform:

The EU opposes amnesties for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide or gross violations of human rights, in line with the UN position.

The EU supports the ICC; it helps countries in situations of fragility and provides financial support for transitional justice initiatives and related issues.

The EU has put in place multiannual funding programs with partner countries including Burundi, Central African Republic, Colombia, Rwanda, South Sudan and The Gambia.

European Parliament position

The European Parliament has repeatedly underlined the need to put an end to impunity for grave crimes under international law.

In a March 2019 resolution on building EU capacity on conflict prevention and mediation, the Parliament declared that a pool of experts covering reconciliation and transitional justice was needed at EU level.

In another resolution in January 2021, the  Parliament proposed to establish an EU Special Representative on International Humanitarian Law and International Justice and underlined the need to ensure justice for all victims of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

A recent resolution in February 2022 called for the promotion of transitional justice processes empowering civil society, victims, marginalised and vulnerable populations, increasing the role of women and young people in transitional justice.

Transitional justice measures do not only address past atrocities but they are also forward-looking.

As the armed conflict in Ukraine is ongoing and atrocities continue to be committed systematically, it is important to keep documenting the human rights violations perpetrated by Russia, the aggressor country, not only for accountability purposes, but also to know the truth of what happened and help determine the type and form of reparations.

If there is a peace agreement, the inclusion of transitional justice issues will be important but there may not be any negotiations and any peace agreement as in the case on the Korean Peninsula 60 years ago. In such a case of a stuck or frozen conflict, Europol, Interpol and the International Criminal Court will have to unite their efforts to hunt and prosecute Russian war criminals until the last one as long as they will be alive as it happened to the Nazi criminals of World War II.

Notice: Undefined index: et_header_layout in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1345

Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1345

Notice: Undefined index: et_header_layout in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1346

Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1346

Notice: Undefined index: et_template in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1347

EU: The 10th Anniversary of the EU Guidelines on FoRB – a call to stand united

EU: The 10th Anniversary of the EU Guidelines on FoRB – a call to stand united

On 29 June, MEPs Peter van Dalen and Carlo Fidanza, co-chairs of the Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief at the European Parliament, hosted a conference at the European Parliament to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the EU Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief. The FORB Roundtables Brussels-EU and Netherlands as well as HRWF contributed to this event.

By Arie de Pater (*)


HRWF (29.07.2023) – Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) is a precious human right and the 10th anniversary of the EU Guidelines on FoRB is definitely a reason to celebrate but also to reiterate the importance of the document. Also on behalf of the European Platform against Religious Intolerance and Discrimination (EPRID), I commend the EP Intergroup on FoRB & Religious Tolerance for organising this event in the European Parliament.


The EU Guidelines on FoRB are a great example of cooperation between the EU Council and civil society. Ten years ago, I was the International Director of Advocacy for Open Doors and I followed the drafting process mainly from a distance as my colleague, Esther Kattenberg, was directly involved in the discussions both with EPRID members and other civil society experts, and with the Council. If my memory serves me well, I personally attended only one round table between the Council and civil society representatives. I was impressed by the cooperative spirit of all participants. Ten years later, I still appreciate the quality of the collective effort. Of course, the world has changed since the adoption of the guidelines and the opportunities for digital surveillance were not as prevalent and intrusive as they are now, but the guidelines are broad enough to address these issues. Therefore, I fail to see an urgent need to amend the guidelines. Let’s implement them!


In the weeks and days preceding the 10th anniversary, EPRID organised two round tables to discuss the EU guidelines, including the need or opportunity to amend the document. Further, we held a brief series of online interviews with experts and practitioners. This culminated in an event in Brussels, featuring the EU Special Envoy for the Protection of Freedom of Religion or Belief outside the European Union, Frans van Daele, and the UN Special Rapporteur on FoRB, Nazila Ghanea as highly esteemed guests.


At the EPRID celebration of the 10th Anniversary of the EU Guidelines, Mr Van Daele identified two main threats to FoRB: ignorance and indifference, and I could not agree more. Religious freedom is an important human right, not just for those adhering to a religion, but for all of us. FoRB grants us all the right to freely choose any religion or belief (broadly defined) without any coercion or interference of the state. When we lose sight on the importance of FoRB for all of society, we could easily lose the motivation to defend and promote this freedom, both within the European Union, and in our external relations. The limited interest in joining the EP Intergroup on FoRB, therefore, is reason for concern.


Awareness of the importance of FoRB is key in understanding the importance of the EU Guidelines and in implementing the guidelines by EU delegations abroad.


Policy discussions, including those in the European Parliament, have a tendency to focus on numbers and statistics. These are no doubt important, but figures do not really illustrate the day-to-day impact and importance of FoRB or the absence thereof. FoRB is not about numbers but about people. Therefore, it is important to share personal stories illustrating how life looks like without FoRB or when this right is violated. That’s why reports like the Freedom of Thought Report by the Humanists, the World Watch List by Open Doors International, or the report of Aid to the Church in Need are important. Together, they present a broad and diverse picture of the importance of FoRB in various countries, situations, and backgrounds.


It goes without saying that these individual stories should be objective and well documented. They should be presented in context. Not all incidents involving believers are indeed FoRB violations. A fair representation and thorough analysis of all relevant facts is key. If we fail to get a clear and comprehensive picture of the situation, we will fail to come up with meaningful recommendations and strategies to address the situation. Nigeria might be a point in case. Especially in the middle belt, we have seen eruptions of violent attacks on people and villages and high numbers of casualties. When we present this violence just as a religious conflict, foregoing the economic elements involved, we’ll miss the mark. But if we neglect the religious element and just focus on resources and economic factors, we’ll equally miss the mark. Both one-sided analyses will lead to ineffective strategies and therefore a continuation of bloodshed. They could make it even worse. That’s why thorough monitoring, documentation, and analysis are so important when presenting cases of FoRB violations.


As I’ve stated before, FoRB is not about numbers and statistics but about people. There is no competition in victimhood. It should not matter whether the victim involved is a humanist, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Bahá’í, or a Christian. They are all equally important. We should all speak up against any violation of religious freedom, regardless the victim involved. EPRID, as a broad interfaith platform has a long history of standing united and I really appreciate that. Having said that, our solidarity is not limited to members of the platform. We are more than happy to work with others who are defending and promoting FoRB.


The EU Guidelines on FoRB have shown what we as civil society can achieve when we work together. We need each other to defend and promote FoRB, at home, in the European Union, and beyond. I call on all civil society actors to stand united, and to speak up whenever FoRB is threatened or violated, no matter the victim or the perpetrator. FoRB is not a privilege or a luxury. It is a human right. Therefore, I wish the EU Guidelines on FoRB a happy anniversary and an even happier future!


(*) Arie de PaterBrussels Representative of the European Evangelical Alliance (EEA) and European Representative of the International Institute for Religious Freedom (IIRF).

Further reading about FORB in the EU on HRWF website


Notice: Undefined index: et_footer_layout in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1395

Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1395

Notice: Undefined index: et_footer_layout in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1396

Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1396

Notice: Undefined index: et_template in /home/hrwfe90/domains/hrwf.eu/public_html/wp-content/plugins/pdf-print/pdf-print.php on line 1397