The Church of England has joined a consortium of organisations working together to advance freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) around the world.
The Freedom of Religion or Belief Leadership Network (FoRBLN) will offer training to parliamentarians and local belief leaders in eight countries across Africa and Asia.
The training will cover human rights issues like gender, health and education, reflecting a growing awareness that FoRB violations take place across different spheres of society.
Announcing its participation, the Church of England said that FoRB violations were “sadly intensifying and for the most part remain hidden from sight”.
The £5.6m project, which also brings together the International Panel of Parliamentarians for FoRB, the Jinnah Institute and the Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion, will run until autumn 2023.
It is being funded by UK Aid Connect, a fund established by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to support organisations responding to the challenges of poverty.
The announcement coincides with the United Nations Day of Human Rights on Thursday, held each year to highlight the right to freedom of religion or belief enshrined in Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
Dr Charles Reed, the Church of England’s International Affairs Adviser, who will be operations director for the project said: “At a time when freedom of religion is increasingly contested as a human right, and when the human rights system itself is under strain, we shouldn’t forget that everyone, everywhere has this right by virtue of being human.
“Over the next three years, we will work with parliamentarians and belief leaders from eight countries in strengthening their commitment to freedom of religion or belief as a human right – one that is on par with other rights and one squarely rooted within the broader human rights system.
“Parliamentarians and belief leaders have considerable untapped potential to make a positive impact on the human rights landscape whether by reforming discriminatory legislation or by using their influence over the hearts and minds of millions of people.”
The Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines, the Church of England’s lead bishop for international affairs, said: “According to a study published by the Pew Forum in June 2018 around 83 per cent of the world’s population live in countries with high or very high levels of restrictions on religion or belief.
“Sadly, this situation has worsened in recent months as a result of the global health pandemic.
“I’m encouraged that the Church of England is responding to this challenge by working with others to resource and equip parliamentarians and faith and belief leaders to defend such a basic human right – a right that touches on the very essence of what it means to be human.”
Now, if America will wake up.