For the first time, a Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief has been appointed in the UK to promote international religious liberty and fight persecution.
Lord Tariq Mahmood Ahmad, Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the United Nations, was selected for the role. Ahmad also serves as the Prime Minister's Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict.
In the role, Ahmad “will promote the UK’s firm stance on religious tolerance abroad, helping to tackle religious discrimination in countries where minority faith groups face persecution,” the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement Wednesday.
Ahmad said he was delighted by the appointment and plans to “use the UK Government’s global network to reach across religious divides, seek the elimination of discrimination on the basis of religion or belief and bring different communities together.”
“In too many parts of the world, religious minorities are persecuted, discriminated against and treated as second class citizens. As a man of faith, I feel this very keenly,” he said in a statement.
“Freedom of Religion or Belief is a human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It must be respected. People from all faiths or none should be free to practise as they wish. This respect is key to global stability, and is in all our interests.”
The role of religious freedom envoy, similar to the U.S. position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, will “demonstrate the country’s commitment to religious freedom by promoting inter-faith respect and dialogue internationally,” the government said in a press release.
“The appointment underscores the Prime Minister’s commitment to tackling religious prejudice in all its forms and follows the government’s recent announcement of a further ¬£1 million funding for places of worship that have been subjected to hate crime attacks.”
Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a coalition of religious freedom advocates, said it was “greatly encouraged by Lord Ahmad’s concern and dedication for those around the world, of all creeds or none, who experience injustice because of their religion or belief.”
The group’s chief executive, Mervyn Thomas, said they “look forward to continuing to work with [Ahmad] to uphold and promote the right to freedom of religion or belief for all.”
In making the announcement, Prime Minister Theresa May stressed that “Religious discrimination blights the lives of millions of people across the globe and leads to conflict and instability.”
“Both here and abroad, individuals are being denied the basic right of being able to practise their faith free of fear,” she said in a statement.
She said that Ahmad has worked “to promote religious liberty in his role as Minister for Human Rights at the Foreign Office” and will now work “with faith groups and governments across the world to raise understanding of religious persecution and what we can do to eliminate it.”