To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has formally raised the issue of Christian persecution at the UN and the EU Foreign Affairs Council; the actions being taken by his department in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
REPLY Under Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right, which is replicated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, includes freedom to change one’s religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest one’s religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. Ireland strongly condemns all forms of persecution on the basis of religion or belief, irrespective of where they occur and who the victims are. Our commitment to promoting freedom of religion and belief is reaffirmed in the Global Island: Ireland’s Foreign Policy for a Changing World, published in January 2015 and more recently in the Programme for Partnership Government. We work to advance this commitment at the EU, the UN Human Rights Council, the UN General Assembly and through our bilateral contacts. We regularly condemn acts of persecution based on religion or belief at the UN General Assembly, raising our concern for the continued discrimination, intimidation and systematic harassment of members of Muslim, Christian and Baha’i communities, as well as those belonging to non-traditional religious or belief movements. Most recently, during the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief at UNGA in October 2017, Ireland welcomed the focus of the Special Rapporteur on gender-specific abuses against women and girls with regard to the right to freedom of religion or belief and stressed engagement with civil society actors, including existing regional and national human rights mechanisms, in carrying out the mandate. Ireland also speaks on the rights of religious minorities at the Human Rights Council where we strongly condemn all forms of persecution and violence committed on the basis of religion or belief and call on all States to prevent such acts. In 2017, we expressed our concerns about the persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East region, Eritrea, Myanmar, Iran and the DPRK. We also avail of the Universal Periodic Review process to remind countries under review of their obligation to advance fundamental freedoms, including the right to freedom of religion or belief, under international human rights law. Ireland works within and alongside the EU to address the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities. During our Presidency of the European Council in 2013, Ireland played a key role in the development of the EU Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief, which provide a framework for the promotion of this right in the EU’s external human rights policy. In 2015, Ireland also pressed for the inclusion of a reference to the promotion of this right in the EU Action Plan for Human Rights and Democracy 2015-2019, which ensures that the EU will continue to engage on the issue of the promotion of freedom of religion and belief. Ireland consistently supports EU-led resolutions on freedom of religion or belief, most recently at the 34th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2017 and the 72nd Session of UN General Assembly in November 2017.