The president of the European Commission issued a decision today that establishes a new position designed to effectively address the growing restrictions on religious freedom internationally. Former European Union Commissioner and Slovak politician Ján Figel will take on the role of special envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion and belief outside the EU.
The decision was made public at the Vatican on the occasion of the award of the Charlemagne Prize to Pope Francis. It refers to February’s resolution on the systematic mass murder being committed by ISIS, in which the European Parliament called for the creation of a special representative for these matters.
“Anti-conversion laws, blasphemy laws, and other legal restrictions lead to social exclusion and even physical persecution today,” said Sophia Kuby, director of EU Advocacy for Alliance Defending Freedom International. “An increasing number of people are not free to live out their faith according to their conscience. With the growing persecution of religious minorities throughout the world, the European Union must act beyond political statements and resolutions.”
“Freedom of religion is a principle inherent to the foundation of the European Union,” said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the announcement of the special envoy. “The persistent persecution of religious and ethnic minorities makes protecting and promoting this freedom inside and outside the EU all the more essential.”
“ADF International welcomes the establishment of the EU special envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion and belief,” said Kuby. “We congratulate Ján Figel on his appointment to this vital position. We are confident that this new envoy position will give a voice to the voiceless and start a new chapter in which the EU takes its human rights obligations more seriously.”
The establishment of the special envoy comes at a time when freedom of conscience, religion, and belief are receiving significant attention. Recently, members of the European Parliament from four political groups signed a declaration on the importance of strengthening the fundamental right to freedom of conscience. The declaration cited concern over an increasing deterioration of this fundamental right throughout Europe and the world.
The parliamentarians called on the European Union and its member states to comply with their legal obligations and ensure “robust protection of freedom of conscience.”