Speech by Minister of State Maria Böhmer to the German Bundestag on the Federal Government report on the status of freedom of religion and belief worldwide

23.09.2016 - Speech

Mr President,

Fellow members of this House,

The Federal Government has provided this report at the request of the Bundestag. It describes the status of both freedom of religion and freedom of belief throughout the world. It does so believing that freedom of religion and belief is of major significance as a pillar of a stable and peaceful order. Freedom of religion and peaceful co‑existence go hand in hand.

Our Basic Law, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has been ratified by 168 countries of the world, protect the basic right to freedom of conscience and religion. Without a doubt, freedom of religion and belief is a universal human right and is enshrined in law in increasing numbers of states, in principle. Yet the reality is often radically different. Throughout the world the freedom of religion and belief of millions of people is restricted on a day‑to‑day basis. Many are persecuted, humiliated or killed. Religion is exploited to justify oppression, violence and injustice, as we can see quite alarmingly in Iraq and Syria. Here, in the cradle of Christianity, so often it is Christians who are the targets of oppression, violence and forced displacement. However, Yazidis and Muslims have also become victims of IS’s brutal and inhumane acts of terrorism. In this desperate situation we have to stand alongside these people. Increasingly it appears that weak state structures, corruption and difficult economic conditions are partly responsible for inadequate protection of religious communities.

We have access to a large number of national and international reports on the status of freedom of religion and belief. As a rule these are country reports. At the Federal Foreign Office we have devoted intensive thought to the question: What more could a report like this, that we would present to the German Bundestag, offer? We have opted for a new, structural approach. This report uses concrete country-specific examples to develop a typology of legal violations.

I believe it is important for us to discuss the approach we have adopted as well as the content of the report. In this report our aim is not simply to provide a snapshot and an analysis of the status quo. The report identifies specific areas in which these violations can be addressed: first, through legislation, second, through the creation of structures and third, in many individual cases. Allow me to use these three points to sum up the Federal Government’s engagement and specific efforts to promote freedom of religion and belief.

First, where legislation is necessary, the Federal Government supports these processes. The EU Human Rights Working Group adopted comprehensive guidelines on promoting and protecting freedom of belief as early as 2013. We support the work of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. We second personnel and fund projects.

Second, we want to promote sustainable structures for dialogue, particularly for religious dialogue. When people learn more about other religions, when they talk to one another, they develop mutual respect and understanding. In Germany we have gained valuable experience through the German Islam Conference. It has now been in existence for ten years. It could serve as an example for other countries on how to forge closer ties with others and how to create a platform of this kind.

We bring together spiritual leaders and people with different religions in many countries. That is no simple task. But I am convinced that existing prejudices and opposing viewpoints can only be overcome through dialogue so that peaceful co‑existence is possible. We have made use of Germany’s chairmanship of the UN Human Rights Council in many ways to promote freedom of religion, and we have supported the continuation of the so‑called Istanbul Process on regional security and cooperation.

Third, in many individual cases, for instance, where cruel punishments or even imminent death penalties are imposed, the Federal Foreign Office and its embassies intervene directly on behalf of those affected. You are well aware that such démarches are often not publicised in order to avoid unnecessary risk for the victims.

Fellow members of this House, during your trips abroad many of you spotlight violations of freedom of religion and spend time talking to people suffering from religious persecution. Your work is more than helpful, and I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to you.

Religion can unleash wonderful, positive power and energy. It is a force for good, but only when it can be practised freely, when the right to practise it is protected and its instrumentalisation is prevented. The state has an obligation to create a framework for the free exercise of this right. Yet the religious communities themselves also have a crucial responsibility to foster peaceful co‑existence among people of different religions. Foreign policy has a supporting role to play in this task. One goal of our engagement for freedom of religion and belief is crisis prevention and stabilisation.

My meeting with the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief last week and today’s debate have been for me a great encouragement on a path that admittedly often feels like an uphill struggle.

Thank you very much.

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