The freedom of religion must be included in Swedish foreign policy and development cooperation. This is the main goal of our work with the freedom of religion or belief. The starting point is the understanding that this is a right that concerns everyone.
The freedom of religion or belief is one of the rights in the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights. Since the human rights are linked the freedom of religion should to be prioritized in the same way as the other rights in Swedish foreign policy. The freedom of religion or belief concerns freedom from coercion, freedom of expression and non-discrimination.
As with the other fundamental freedoms, the freedom of religion contributes to upholding other rights.
Furthermore, the freedom of religion is often important in democratization and development processes.
Missing in Sida’s strategy plan
Despite this, the freedom of religion has been overlooked in Sweden’s international policy. This has been shown in a report that we have made. For example, religion and the issues of religious freedom are not included in Sida’s programme plan for democracy, human rights and gender equality.
Furthermore, discrimination due to religion or belief is not prioritized by Sida in contrast to many other grounds for discrimination. In order to influence Swedish decision-makers we discuss with politicians, the Foreign Office and Sida. We also participate in OSCE’s, the organization for security and cooperation in Europe, meetings about human rights and other conferences where religious freedom is raised.
Positive policy changes are happening. The Swedish Prime Minister, for example, named religious freedom in the government declaration. However, concrete efforts are needed both in Sweden and the EU.
The experience of members
Religious freedom is lacking in thirty of the countries our members and their partner organizations work in. This is shown in a mapping that we have carried out. The problems vary from discriminating legislation and problems with authorities to violence from other groups in society.