On 20th November 2017 the Bishop of Leeds, Rt Revd Nick Baines, received two written answers to questions on religious freedom and the 2018 Commonwealth Summit:
The Lord Bishop of Leeds:
(i) To ask Her Majesty’s Government what priority they have given to addressing freedom of religion or belief across the Commonwealth at next year’s Commonwealth Summit; and what funding, if any, has been allocated by the Cabinet Office’s Commonwealth Secretariat to deliver a programme of events around that issue in the run-up to the Summit.
(ii) To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are taking steps ahead of the Commonwealth Summit in 2018 to document levels of government restrictions and societal hostility towards religious freedom across the Commonwealth.
(i) Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: The Government remains firmly committed to the promotion and protection of Freedom of Religion or Belief in all countries. The Prime Minister has announced the four themes for the summit: prosperity, security, sustainability and fairness. The summit will encourage all Commonwealth members to uphold the values set out in the Commonwealth Charter, including religious freedom or belief. We are currently working with the Commonwealth Secretariat and other member states to establish a detailed agenda for the week of the summit and the programme of events.
We are currently considering programmes for the UK’s Commonwealth Chair-in-Office period, the two years following the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in April 2018. We have agreed to support the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in hosting a forum which will bring parliamentarians from around the Commonwealth together for important discussions across the key challenges facing the Commonwealth, including upholding the Commonwealth Charter. We have also provided £20,000 to the Royal Commonwealth Society to support its interfaith service, which will take place in Westminster Abbey on Commonwealth Day in March 2018.
(ii) Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: Her Majesty’s Government remains firmly committed to the promotion and protection of Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) in all countries. Throughout our diplomatic network, including our High Commissions, diplomats are instructed to take account of human rights, including the right to freedom of religion or belief and report back to London.
On International Religious Freedom Day, I wrote to all Ambassadors and High Commissioners regarding the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO)’s work to protect and promote FoRB globally. I have also initiated a series of roundtable discussions on FoRB with civil society and faith leaders to increase our collaboration in this area. Ministers and officials raise individual cases with relevant authorities and highlight practices and laws that discriminate against people on the basis of their religion or belief. We also speak out publicly in support of FoRB, for example during my recent visit to Bangladesh in August 2017, I visited the Ahmadiyya Mosque in Dhaka and made a call for religious tolerance. We also include reporting on FoRB in our Annual Human Rights Report, which includes some Commonwealth countries.
To support staff working on these issues, the FCO has re-issued its revised “toolkit” on FoRB and continues to provide training and seminars to increase religious literacy amongst staff.