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UK Government Policy

In the UK, the Foreign and Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) monitors the international situation in respect of religious freedom. In its 2019 Human Rights and Democracy report, the FCO stated that Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) was a priority for the UK in 2019. The report mentioned terrorist attacks on people of faith, such as in New Zealand and Sri Lanka, the treatment of Uyghurs and others Muslims in China, Jehovah’s witnesses in Russia and Christians in Pakistan, and followers of Baha’i faith in Iran

The report also drew attention to DFID’s £12 million Freedom of Religion or Belief programme, the ‘Coalition for Religious Inequality and Development’ (CREID), which works “with local partners to address stigma, social exclusion, and economic exclusion”.

In February 2020 the US Government launched the Religious Freedom Alliance. The UK and many other countries joined the alliance

In September 2019 the Government appointed Rehman Chishti MP as his special envoy for religious freedom.

2019 Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry

In 2019 the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee started an inquiry into religious freedom and human rights defenders. The inquiry was closed due to the December General Election but the Committee took evidence on the following questions: 

  • How effective is the FCO’s support for FORB, and is this sufficiently prioritised within its human rights work?
  • How satisfactory was the recent independent review into the persecution of Christians overseas, in its scope and its execution; what has the FCO done to follow up on its conclusions and recommendations; and what are its implications for the FCO’s work on FORB?
  • What has been the impact of the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on FORB?
  • What role does the FCO play in shaping work by DfID, the Home Office, and other departments around FORB?

Bishop of Truro’s Review: FCO Support for Persecuted Christians

The then Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, set up a review by the Bishop of Truro into Government support for persecuted Christians in January 2019. He asked the review to map “levels of persecution and other discrimination against Christians in key countries around the world” and make an “objective assessment of the impact and levels of FCO support”. The review would then make recommendations to the Foreign Secretary.

The report was published on 8 July 2019. It outlines the seriousness of the problem and makes recommendations to the FCO on steps to tackle it. The report calls for action at the United Nations, including a Resolution to allow UN observers to monitor the problem.

The report states that the “level and nature” of the persecution of Christians in some regions was “arguably coming close to meeting the international definition of genocide according to that adopted by the UN”.

Shortly after publication, at the second Ministerial Conference to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington DC, Lord Ahmad announced that the Government would implement all of the recommendations from the Bishop of Truro’s review.

The 2019 Democracy and Human Rights report listed some steps already taken in the light of the Bishop of Truro’s recommendations:

  • we created a new John Bunyan Fund to support FoRB projects;
  • led cross-Whitehall efforts to mark Red Wednesday (a day dedicated to drawing attention to persecuted Christians around the world);
  • lobbied other countries to appoint FoRB special envoys;
  • and wrote to the British Council, Wilton Park, and Westminster Foundation for Democracy to encourage them to expand their work on FoRB

In June 2020 Nigel Adams, Minister at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, set out details of the John Bunyan Fund and other freedom of religion activities undertaken by the FCO:

Since 2018, the FCO has allocated more than £1 million for Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) projects through the Magna Carta Fund for human rights. This included projects to combat intolerance and encourage respect among individuals of different faiths, beliefs and those of no belief. Following the Bishop of Truro’s independent Review of FCO Support for Persecuted Christians, we also launched the John Bunyan Fund for FoRB, through which we funded 15 research projects that looked at the challenges facing different communities, including Christians, Yazidis and Humanists. John Bunyan Fund projects also looked at cross-cutting issues such as migration and the double vulnerability experienced by women from minority faith backgrounds. Programme funding allocations for financial year 2020-2021 are yet to be confirmed.

Truro update, September 2020

On 17 September the Government answered a PQ from Jim Shannon MP on the implementations of the Bishop of Truro’s recommendations. Nigel Adams said that half of the recommendations are implemented or in progress:

Defending the right to Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) for all is a priority for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. The UK Government has committed to implement the Bishop of Truro’s 22 recommendations in full, in a way that will bring real improvements in the lives of those persecuted because of their faith or belief. Over half of the recommendations have either been implemented, or are in progress, and work is continuing to implement the remainder.

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