News Release

Unified Action Needed on Freedom of Religion or Belief Violations, According to North American and British Representatives

Webinar reviews next steps on human rights abuses during COVID-19 pandemic

Senior representatives from Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States met for an online roundtable – COVID-19, Religion and Belief: Canada, United States, and United Kingdom Perspectives – addressing challenges to religious liberty during the period of COVID-19. 

Panellists at the July 2 event were Rita French, the UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights and Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva; Nadine Maenza, Commissioner and Vice Chair, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom; and Tamara Mawhinney, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Canada to the UN, Geneva. The webinar was chaired by Dr. Pasquale Annicchino, Bruno Kessler Foundation/Cambridge Institute on Religion & International Studies.

The UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French, said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly brought out the best in many religious and belief communities around the world. We have seen remarkable acts of kindness, including enhanced efforts to care for the vulnerable, and actively sharing credible advice on health and safety precautions. But we have also seen incidents of particular concern. 

“Defending the right to Freedom of Religion or Belief, and promoting respect between different religious and non-religious communities, is a human rights policy priority for the UK. Civil society, and religious and secular actors are important partners and critical friends of governments. They provide honest and candid advice, and urge us to do more than before. It is vital that we all continue to work together, to address the global challenge that we face.”

According to Tamara Mawhinney, representing the Permanent Mission of Canada to the UN, Geneva, “No government can solve the COVID-19 crisis alone. Countries will require collaborative contributions from civil society, including religious leaders, to understand the impact of this pandemic and to work together to create viable solutions for the future. Internationally, we will need to address the intersection of freedom of religion or belief and COVID-19 through our various multilateral and bilateral engagements”. 

Nadine Maenza, from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, said, "USCIRF is concerned that governments are restricting religious freedom under the pretext of fighting COVID-19. While freedom of religion and belief is subject to restriction under very specific public health or other conditions in international law, some governments are imposing restrictions with prejudice toward specific religious communities.”

"We are also concerned that some of the restrictions or surveillance we are seeing may stick around beyond the pandemic. It is important that countries know that the US government is watching," she added.

The webinar was hosted by the European Union & International Affairs Office of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was part of the online “COVID-19, Religion and Belief” seminar series organised by the Church in Europe.
Elder Gary B. Sabin, President of the Europe Area of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commented following this latest webinar, “Respect for human dignity is an essential principle of faith. Restrictions on religious freedom violate that dignity. These breaches not only impact individual conscience but have wide social, economic, and spiritual consequences for entire nations.
“We stand shoulder to shoulder with all those who advocate respect for all faiths, including their right to worship. We actively support greater inclusivity and tolerance within our own societies and globally.”
The online audience for the webinar came together from five continents, and comprised academic leaders, experts from government and global bodies, faith leaders, and other representatives of civil society.
Co-sponsoring institutions of the webinar series are also the Cambridge Institute on Religion and International Studies, the Center for Religious Studies at Bruno Kessler Foundation, the Center for Justice and Society at Fundação Getulio Vargas Law School of Rio de Janeiro, the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University Law School, and the University of Siena

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