Re: The renewal of the mandate of the Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU

Dear President von der Leyen,

We, the undersigned organizations and individuals of the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Roundtable, are writing to applaud and thank you for the European Commission’s recent decision to renew the mandate of the Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU. We are thankful that the EU has continued to play a leadership role in the promotion of fundamental human rights throughout the world, and stand ready to assist in any way possible in that mission.

As we wrote in our previous letter, freedom of religion or belief is under attack in many parts of the world. Both those with faith and no faith face hostile governments and attacks by non-state actors on their ability to freely exercise their rights to freedom of conscience, thought, religion, and belief. Yet we remain especially hopeful, as there is increasing recognition of this important freedom and increasing coordinated action amongst governments, civil society organizations and everyday individuals to protect freedom of religion or belief. The renewal of the Special Envoy’s mandate is a key aspect of this global movement for freedom.

We also write to recommend ways that the Special Envoy’s influence and ability to act on behalf of the victims of violations of freedom or religion or belief may and should be strengthened. We recall that the European Parliament called for the ‘EU to establish a permanent Special Representative for Freedom of Religion or Belief’ in paragraph 10 of its Resolution of 4 February 2016 on the systematic mass murder of religious minorities by the so-called ‘ISIS/Daesh’. Further, the Report on EU Guidelines and the mandate of the EU Special Envoy, adopted by the European Parliament on 16 January 2019 with overwhelming support (576 votes for), stressed the need for the Council and the Commission to carry out a transparent and comprehensive assessment of the position of the Special Envoy, and ‘on the basis of this assessment, to adequately support the institutional mandate, capacity and duties, by exploring the possibility of a multi-year term subjected to annual review’.

Implementing the recommendations of the European Parliament would serve only to strengthen the leadership of the EU on freedom of religion or belief. The establishment of the Special Envoy as holding a permanent mandate, with a multi-year term, full-time staff, and appropriate and increased funding would establish an important commitment from the EU to protecting the fundamental rights of people all over the world. Additionally, it would enable the Special Envoy to best support and respond to the millions of victims worldwide who face severe restrictions on their basic human rights. Whoever is appointed as the next Special Envoy should be a dedicated and zealous advocate for the rights of victims everywhere, of whatever faith and even no faith.

We again thank you for your leadership, President von der Leyen, on universal human rights, and look forward to working with you and the Special Envoy in furthering the protection of freedom of religion or belief for all people.  

Respectfully Yours,

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