Religion and human rights stronger together

“To strengthen a culture of human rights we need to rediscover our shared space between faith and human rights,” said FRA Director Michael O’Flaherty opening the Agency’s expert meeting that sought to identify how people motivated by faith and people motivated by human rights can better come together to help shape fair and just societies.

It was acknowledged that one of the roots of modern human rights discourse is in theological discourse. Rights are hardwired in many faiths. Socio-economic rights, respect for others, justice and dignity are common to many. And over the ages, religious actors have played, and continue to play, an important role in responding to humanitarian crises.

Dr Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief said we should not overlook the potential for tension between religion and human rights such as the numerous religious reservations made to human rights treaties. He also spoke of how globalisation has spawned anxieties and fear, leading to rising intolerance based on belief. To move forward he called for greater religious literacy among the human rights community and more rights literacy for religious actors so each group better understands each other and can work together.

Recognising that human rights need to be promoted and taught, Michael O’Flaherty spoke of the importance of building strong alliances with diverse faith groups built on ground rules for shared understanding. He saw this as a “way to get local that human rights group find difficult…If human rights are to succeed in getting traction in the popular culture then we need partnership and cooperation with a great diversity of religious communities.

He valued the meeting that brought together international experts in religious studies, human rights law, religious thinkers, philosophers, policy makers and representatives from international organisations and non-governmental organisations. He felt that the discussions were only just beginning and committed the Agency to finding appropriate ways to continue and to systematically engage on this issue.

The expert meeting on 12 and 13 September in Vienna was the last of its series of expert meetings that have sought to find ways to rebuild a human rights ethos across the EU that resonates across all walks of life. Other expert meetings have looked at enabling space for civil society working on human rights, human rights and the arts, and communicating human rights in a meaningful way.