On Boxing Day (December 26) 2018, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt commissioned an independent review of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) response to Christian persecution around the world.
The independent review, led by the Rt. Rev. Philip Mounstephen, Bishop of Truro, released its final report and recommendations in July 2019. The report had as its mandate to map levels of persecution and discrimination against Christians, to assess the impact of FCO support, and to make recommendations to the Foreign Secretary.
As the introduction to the final report made clear, while its mandate was explicitly to investigate the global phenomenon of the persecution of Christians, “the focus of the Review’s recommendations is clearly on guaranteeing freedom of religion or belief for all, irrespective of faith tradition or belief system, taking full account of the scale, scope and severity of its abuse in various contexts.”
In August 2019, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the government had accepted all 22 of the recommendations of that report and committed to implementing them all.
Now one year on from that report, Lord David Alton of Liverpool chaired an online event, hosted by the House of Lords on Wednesday, July 8. The event looked back at the implementation of the report and forward to the growing momentum within the UK government and civil society to address issues of religious persecution and promote freedom of religion for all around the globe.
Other presenters at the event included former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt; Baroness Nicholson founder and Chairman of the Amar Foundation; Jim Shannon MP and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief; Rehman Chishti MP and Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief; Rt. Rev. Philip Mounstephen, Bishop of Truro; Archbishop Angaelos of London; Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States within the Holy See’s Secretariat of State; Mervyn Thomas, CEO, CSW; Mr. Charles Hoare; Mr. Stephen Turnstall, and Ms. Ewelina Ochab.
Mr. Rehman Chishti, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, provided an update on his work and documented that the government has already taken efforts to implement 11 out of the 22 recommendations found in the Truro Report.
Central to the implementation of these recommendations is for religious freedom to be an issue of concern in foreign policy decisions, such as the decision taken this week to impose sanctions on military officials in Burma who bear responsibility for the genocidal violence committed against Burma’s Rohingya Muslim population and other religious and ethnic minorities.
Religious freedom concerns must also come under consideration in foreign assistance and humanitarian relief and development programs. The UK has made a significant commitment toward building an evidence base on this issue through its support of the Coalition for Religious Equality and Inclusive Development convened by the Institute of Development Studies. Yet further steps can be taken toward Protecting Vulnerable Religious Minorities in Conflict and Crisis Settings, particularly given the staggering scale of forced displacement, impacting 80 million people worldwide.
Yet, effort on these issues is not only limited to the work of governments. The event served as the occasion for an announcement of the UK FoRB Forum, a network of civil society organizations working to advance the fundamental right of freedom of religion or belief for all.
The UK FoRB Forum, which will be chaired by the Bishop of Truro, plans to hold its first formal meeting in September. It is intended to serve as a convening and coordinating space, to inform policy, and to hold the government to account for its efforts to address these issues.
As Lord Alton stated in his opening remarks to Wednesday’s event, “Thanks to the good bishop and his Report the suffering of 250 million people world-wide is no longer a peripheral issue. The challenge to each of us participating today is to keep it centre stage.”
The efforts underway in the United Kingdom, and beyond, show that there is reason to hope this effort will continue to move forward to promote religious freedom for all people.