The Honourable Darren Henfield, Minister of Foreign Affairs, participated in the 2020 virtual Ministerial Meeting to Advance Freedom of Religion or Belief hosted by the Government of Poland in mid-November, and delivered a statement on behalf of The Bahamas.
The 2020 Ministerial is the third annual Ministerial, which builds on the 2018 and 2019 conferences that were hosted by the United States of America. The conference aims to scale up the efforts of the international community to promote freedom of religion or belief and protect members of religious minorities.
Ministers from around the world discussed the challenges facing religious freedom, identified means to address religious persecution and discrimination worldwide, and promoted greater respect and preservation of religious liberty for all.
Minister Henfield highlighted the deep embedment of religious freedom into the foundation of The Bahamas, beginning with the arrival of a group of religious independents in the late 1640s who left their homes in search of a place to practice their religion freely. The Minister further emphasized fundamental rights and freedom, inclusive of freedom of religion or belief, which are enshrined in the Constitution of The Bahamas.
In participating in the Ministerial, the Minister conveyed The Bahamas’ agreement for the adoption of the eight (8) Statements of Concern which focus on the most pressing issues of protecting freedom of religion or belief in the world. It was the intention of Poland, as the organizer of this year’s ministerial conference, to obtain the widest possible support for these Statements of Concern. The Statements are titled as follows:
• Statement on protection of minorities persecuted based on religion or belief
• Statement on advancement of interreligious, interfaith and intrareligious dialogues
• Freedom of Religion or Belief as a pillar of democracy
• Statement on use of technology and the protection of freedom of religion or belief
• Statement on the interlinkages between SDGs and freedom of religion or belief
• Statement on preserving freedom of religion or belief during COVID-19 pandemic
• Statement on the role of literacy on religion and belief
• Statement on religious actors’ contribution to the peacebuilding
During the Statement, Minister Henfield also stressed that ongoing acts of intolerance and violence based on religion or belief against individuals, including persons belonging to religious communities and religious minorities around the world, should not be accepted by the international community.
The Minister reiterated that government representatives and leaders in all sectors of society must work together to speak out against acts of intolerance and violence based on religion or belief – diversity and inclusivity are paramount.
In closing, Minister Henfield thanked the Government of Poland and fellow delegations for the opportunity to speak and reiterated the need for the continued deepening of efforts to promote religious freedom and belief throughout our global community.
The Ministerial took place virtually from November 16th to 17th, as a result of social distancing measures adopted across the world to collectively address the COVID-19 pandemic.
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