The idea of a government conference might not inspire you. It might even conjure up chilling images of black holes of banality that waste time, lack vision, and drain enthusiasm. There is a summit on the UK government’s calendar that has the potential to overturn these unfortunate preconceptions. However, to realize the full potential of this summer’s ministerial meeting on promoting religious freedom, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will need to seize the moment. There must be a modicum of will in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to aim higher than mediocrity. This is a platform from which to launch a series of dynamic political announcements, but the planning for any real results must begin now.
The ministerial premieres, hosted by the United States in 2018 and 2019, were the largest such events ever held at the US State Department. Representatives of over 100 rights-defending and rights-defending governments came together to make commitments and discuss policies. More than 1,000 religious leaders and members of various faith communities, organizations fighting for people’s rights around the world, scholars, journalists and survivors of religious freedom violations also visited a Washington D.C. suffocating to express themselves and resist the persecution. and call for change. There was an effervescent atmosphere, at least among the civil society events organized during and around the conference. An infectious spirit of optimism, creative problem solving, and collaborative solving ran through the city.
Now it’s the UK’s turn to conjure up the vibrant energy of this summit. The UK has every potential to use the ministerial meeting to become a leader in promoting this fundamental freedom, orchestrated by the Prime Minister’s energetic and determined Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB )Fiona Bruce.
There was never a likelihood, nor a reasonable expectation, that the UK Ministerial would receive the same resources as the US iterations. However, what made the American ministerial meetings worthwhile was not the expense or the spectacle, but rather the resounding conclusion they elicited: namely, that the American government recognized the extent of religious repression in the world, that it really matters and that the United States would make it a foreign policy priority to fight persecution and advance religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. These events were far from perfect, but they spoke volumes on the international scene.
How can the UK government seize this moment?
The UK could seek to inspire and embody leadership by leading and funding serious efforts that support the dismantling of blasphemy and apostasy laws. Supporting everyone’s right to change their religion is a daunting challenge in many countries and is a key pillar of religious freedom that requires careful consideration and navigation by government. Such individual self-determination in so many places will have consequences for religious converts ranging from loss of livelihood to loss of freedom to loss of life.
But a simple way to be an effective force against issues like blasphemy and apostasy laws is to get the job of special envoy.
In 2018, the UK Prime Minister’s first special envoy for FoRB was appointed. The creation of this position was a remarkable breakthrough, but the appointment depends on the interest of a given Prime Minister, which certainly cannot be guaranteed. Religious freedom is relevant to many of the great geopolitical issues of our time and, tragically, the crisis of persecution will not be resolved any time soon. In light of this, the Foreign Secretary should introduce legislation to make the appointment a legal requirement of every UK government and give the envoy’s office the resources and mandate it needs to fight this global scourge .
Today, hundreds of millions of people face harassment, violence, rape, torture, imprisonment and death because of their religious beliefs and identity. It is essential that the Minister of Foreign Affairs fully seizes this extraordinary opportunity this summer to defend the freedom of the oppressed.
The British government must use the platform of the ministerial meeting to impress on the international community that it recognizes the extent of the repression of religious minorities, that it really matters and that it will make it a foreign policy priority for fight persecution and advance religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. How we consolidate the office of the special envoy will be key to achieving this.
Everyone will be watching to see if the UK seizes this moment.
Miles PJ Windsor serves as Senior Manager for Strategy and Campaigns on the Middle East Action Team at the Religious Liberty Institute. Miles has over a decade of experience in international affairs and religious liberty, focusing during that time on the Middle East and North Africa.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.