Religion is often used or manipulated by groups who fuel divisions between people of different faiths, and who sometimes encourage, incite and commit atrocity, Adama Dieng, Special Adviser of the UN secretary-general on the prevention of genocide, has stated.
He stated this at the 23-25 November Global Summit on Religion, Peace and Security, organised by the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect, International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty, World Council of Churches (WCC), European Union, and the government of Spain.
Representing the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) was Bishop Duleep De Chickera, Bishop of Colombo in the Anglican Church of Sri Lanka, who spoke on the current status of affairs, best practices, and lessons learned in fostering freedom of religion.
“The WCC is happy to be one of the co-sponsors of this Summit on Religion, Peace and Security, particularly as we mark this year the 70th anniversary of the CCIA.
“Its engagement and advocacy work in the field of freedom of religion or belief is key to its work,” said Semegnish Asfaw, WCC programme executive for international affairs.
There were speakers from an array of faiths including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, as well as representatives of Buddhism, Sikhs, Baha’i and other beliefs present.
Dieng cited conflicts in Central African Republic, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, as some of the worst situations in which people are dying that should never have started.
“We cannot continue on this path,” said Dieng noting, “regrettably, religion plays a role in many of the active or latent conflicts we are witnessing today and is misused to justify savage cruelty and atrocities.
“In fact, religion is often used – I would say manipulated – by parties with vested interests who stand to gain by fuelling divisions between people of different faiths, and who sometimes even encourage, incite and commit atrocities.”
He stressed that ensuring respect for the rights of all peoples, without discrimination or distinction, implies the active protection of those who are most at risk and whose voices may not be heard.
“In many societies, these include minority religious communities. A starting point for such protection is to enshrine human rights protection in domestic law, including the right to freedom of religion and belief, and the right to practice one’s religion of choice.”
And while the state has the “primary responsibility to protect its populations and promote human rights, each of us also has a responsibility,” he said.
Bishop De Chickera said there are two crucial lessons in sustaining freedom of religion and belief and one is the message of enlightened religious people “who can never be vanquished or subdued”.
He said it was vital to note that, “The religious other has certain values and certain spiritualities which my religion has had, and has now lost, or which my religion lacks.”
The bishop said this is the point made in the popular Biblical parable, the good Samaritan.
“The different other, the stranger, the outcast, the enemy or in today’s context the refugee or the migrant carries a gift that completes me. In some Asian cultures we use same word for stranger and guest. One is unable to think of a world without the religious other.”
Regarding what is the objective of the freedom of religion and belief, De Chickera said that the notion that the object of freedom of religion and belief is to strengthen and to protect institutionalized religion is wrong.
That is because “very often institutionalized religion it is the very force that abuses and exploits the freedom and goes on to harass and to suppress other minority religions. The purpose of freedom of religion is to establish a safe, just and integrated world in which all life – both humans and other living beings – will live with dignity and harmony.”
Rev. Dr Peniel Rajkumar, WCC programme executive for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation, said, “It is important that this summit engages pertinent questions on religion, peace and security from an interreligious perspective highlighting the complex intersections between religion and politics.”
“To view religion honestly both as a problem and promise has implications for realising the full potential of religions as offering pragmatic and promising solutions for peace-building.”