Many might remember that a month ago, we were both happy about the content of a a European Parliament report and outraged about the political messaging being carried out around it.
This was the EP report on the mandate of the EU Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief much more balanced than what the drafters had initially planned. Indeed, after fierce negotiations, the report largely acknowledged the urgency in providing protection to persecuted humanists, atheists and non-believers as well and recognized the fundamental role that humanist organisations have to play in this domain.
However, at the same time, we were appalled to see that the Rapporteur, Mr. Andrzej Grzyb, a member of the European People’s Party and the EU Special Envoy, Mr. Jan Figel had called a press conference where they shared the table with two organisations, ADF and CitizensGo, very well known for the ultra-conservative Christian anti-human rights agenda they promote, campaigning against LGBT rights, abortion and contraception.
These organisations share the views of certain EPP MEPs: that the EU should use its action for the protection of persecuted Christians an assertion of its identity and that there was no reason to discuss this with humanists – “
those people who believe in nothing
Following up on this gross misalignment between the adopted text and the participation to the press conference of the EU Special Envoy – who was officially appointed by the President of the Commission himself – a group of MEPs wrote a letter to Jean-Claude Juncker expressing their manifold concerns.
They reminded him that Freedom of Religion or Belief includes the right not to have a religion, to change one’s religion or not to have any views on religion. They expressed that the EU’s action has to encompass the protection of anyone discriminated for their thoughts or life stance in the world.
Seeing that by taking part in a press conference with neo-conservative and fundamentalist, anti-choice and anti-LGBT organisations, Mr. Figel had undermined the credibility of the EU’s Human Rights commitments, they asked the President of the Commission to clarify the scope of the the mandate of the EU special envoy and questioned whether Mr. Figel was able to complete such mandate.
We wholeheartedly thank the involved MEPs for their dedication and for raising these fundamental questions.
You can read the full extent of the letter below.
Brussels, 13 February 2019
Dear Commission President,
We wish to raise our deepest concerns in relation to the recently held press conferences following the adoption of the report on the EU guidelines and the mandate of the EU Special Envoy on the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU, more specifically the attendance of Special Envoy Ján Figel.
Our concerns are twofold. First, Ján Figel, in his capactity as official representative of the European Commission and only minutes after the adoption of a well-balanced report by the European Parliament, participated in a press conference with a markedly unbalanced focus on the persecution of Christian minorities. In your nomination of the Special Envoy in 2016 you emphasised that freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental right which is part of the foundation of the European Union.
We stand firm that protecting freedom of religion or belief fully includes speaking out for everyone whose human rights are violated – believers and non-believers. The purpose of the mandate of Mr Figel to promote the freedom of religion or belief must include all religious minorities as well as non-believers, atheists, humanists, free-thinkers, rationalists and those who do not have any views on religion and who are threatened, arrested and persecuted worldwide.
Therefore, Mr Figel’s participation in this press conference not only stood in sharp contrast with his mandate but also contributed to undermining the credibility of the EU in its policy in this field.
Second, it is very alarming to see the participation of the EU Special Envoy alongside neo-conservative and fundamentalist organisations and individuals who vocally oppose fundamental rights such as women’s sexual rights and LGBTI people’s rights.
We believe that the promotion of fundamental rights of some can never be used to undermine the rights of others, such as women’s rights or LGBTI people’s rights. The European Commission has been an important and vital defender of these rights and we trust that it continues to be so. We underline the importance of involving the Special Envoy on the promotion of freedom of religion or belief under the umbrella of the EU Special Representative (EUSR) for Human Rights.
It is under these circumstances that
we question to what extent Mr Figel is able to complete his mandate in the necessary universal and encompassing manner that the protection of European values would request.
We thus urge you to clarify the mandate of the EU Special Envoy and the Commission’s position on the rights of others in relation to the protection of freedom of religion or belief.
We also request, if necessary, that the Commission draws the appropriate personnal consequences following this offending initiative.
Terry Reintke MEP, Greens/EFA
Malin Björk MEP, GUE/NGL
Tanja Fajon MEP, S&D
Iratxe García-Pérez MEP, PES
Philippe Lamberts MEP, Greens/EFA
Tilly Metz MEP, Greens/EFA
Ana Miranda MEP, Greens/EFA
Edouard Martin MEP, S&D
Sirpa Pietikäinen MEP, EPP
Julia Reda MEP, Greens/EFA
Christine Revault D’Allones Bonnefoy MEP, S&D
Virginie Rozière MEP, S&D
Bart Staes MEP, Greens/EFA
Sophie in’t Veld MEP, ALDE
Daniele Viotti MEP, S&D