On 26 October, the Conference of European Churches (CEC) General Secretary Fr Heikki Huttunen and Dr Elizabeta Kitanovic, CEC Executive Secretary responsible for human rights, met with Dr Ján Figeľ Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside of the EU and his team in Brussels.
In his exchange with CEC representatives, Mr Figeľ said that religion was too far from the European integration agenda and talking about religion as a standard issue should lead to a culture of dialogue. “If we don’t understand religion, we don’t understand the world,” he remarked.
CEC General Secretary Fr Heikki Huttunen emphasized not only the broad European reach of CEC, but its global relations as well, underscoring that churches are present in all regions of the world. Recently CEC has carried out several events addressing freedom of religion or belief. These include a conference at the Theological School of Halki, a hearing at the European Parliament on establishing and maintain religious freedom in the world, and a recent consultation in Zagreb (Croatia) on religious minorities in culturally diverse societies. The CEC Thematic Reference Group on Human Rights is collating results from a survey of churches on the evaluation of EU guidelines on the promotion and protection of freedom and religion or belief outside the EU. The evaluation of these guidelines by the EEAS should take place in 2016.
Dr Kitanovic updated the Special Envoy on other current activities, including calls from the European churches to the European Institutions to prepare a separate report on freedom of religion outside the EU and another on the state of fundamental rights and freedoms within the EU. This will enhance EU credibility on this subject, especially in terms of addressing issues related to migration and religious freedom.
The mandate of the Special Envoy includes the role of freedom of religion or belief in the area of international cooperation and development, article 17 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union, and conflicts where freedom of religion or belief is violated, including through forced-conversions and blasphemy legislation. The impetus for this new post emerged following the murder of Coptic Christians in Libya.