Observations from Recent FoRB Roundtable in Brussels

November 12, 2019

In October 2019, RFI’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team Research Fellow, Kareem P.A. McDonald, attended a meeting of the FoRB Roundtable in Brussels, Belgium. Hearing first-hand about the Roundtable’s current initiatives, McDonald met with important religious freedom allies from around the world.

The FoRB Roundtable Brussels-EU is part of a growing network of other roundtables around the world. While each roundtable is independent, they coordinate as needed on overlapping issues. The roundtables are informal groups of individuals from civil society who gather regularly to discuss FoRB issues on a non-attribution basis. They provide a space in which participants may gather, speak candidly, share ideas and information, and propose joint advocacy actions to address specific FoRB issues and problems that span multiple countries and geographic regions.

The collective goal of the roundtables is to reverse the rising tide of restrictions on the free and full exercise of religion spreading worldwide. Participants of the FoRB Roundtable Brussels-EU engage with EU structures, national European governments, and governments beyond Europe to elevate FoRB for all as a priority.

The roundtables represent important opportunities for building alliances and strategic partnerships between FoRB organizations and activists. At the meeting, McDonald met with representatives from an inter-faith organization based in London that is planning to launch a Pakistan-India Forum that will focus on the important issues of blasphemy and apostasy in these countries. He shared with these representatives the vital work of RFI’s South and Southeast Asia Action and Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team, both of which have directed their efforts to crucial issues in this region.   

Participants at the FoRB Roundtable Brussels-EU received briefings on a number of exciting initiatives, such as the plans to establish an annual FoRB award for members of the European Parliament (MEP). The purpose of the award would be to recognize annually the work of MEPs who have significantly contributed to the promotion and defense of FoRB.

Furthermore, Kishan Manocha, Senior Adviser on FoRB at OSCE/ODIHR, briefed participants on the organization’s new publication: Freedom of Religion or Belief and Security: Policy Guidance. Its purpose is to provide guidance to policy-makers and governments on dealing effectively with security concerns while also protecting FoRB. Kishan provided a useful and informative analysis on troubling developments in some OSCE region countries in which governments are nationalizing religion to limit the FoRB rights of religious minorities by citing the need to preserve national identity. Additionally, Kishan spoke of how security is increasingly being used by some governments as a pretext for control over minority religious communities and the limiting of FoRB. 

While the date of the next FoRB Roundtable meeting has not yet been set, subcommittees will soon be established to launch the Pakistan-India Forum and an initiative to confer an annual FoRB award for MEPs.