Statement by Ambassador Flynn at Arria-Formula Meeting on Religion, Belief and Conflict
Statement19 March 2021
Madame Chair, thank you for convening this thought-provoking conversation. We appreciated hearing the briefers’ first-hand experiences, which provide an opportunity for all of us to reflect on religion, belief and conflict. And I also wanted to thank Ekhlas in particular. It can’t have been easy for you to share your story, but it is so important we hear it.
Throughout history, the interplay between religion or belief, power and conflict has marked our world in profound ways. Far too often, minorities - including religious or belief groups - have borne the brunt of violence and persecution, with the tragic consequences so familiar to us all. Ireland condemns in the strongest possible terms all acts of violence, intimidation or persecution perpetrated against any individual or group on the basis of their religion or belief. Equally, we condemn all those who seek to invoke religion or belief as a justification for the commission of atrocities.
Tolerance, inclusion, and respect for diversity are antibodies that help to build and protect healthy societies and inoculate us against violence and persecution. We know that human rights violations and abuses frequently prove to be early warning indicators for conflict. Violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief, and importantly the right not to believe, foretell of exclusionary politics that establish hierarchies of rights-holders within society. Too often, this extends beyond religious intolerance to intolerance on other grounds of difference, whether gender, sexual orientation and identity, race or ethnicity, or migration status. We have seen, again and again, that persecution of any type can be an early warning sign of mass violence.
Human rights are universal and indivisible. Hierarchies of humanity, artificially constructed according to categories of belonging and exclusion, can never be tolerated.
Guaranteeing rights – including the exercise of freedom of expression, association, assembly, religion or belief – and respecting diversity in all its forms, is the bedrock on which we can build peace and stability.
On the island of Ireland, we have learned the importance of tolerance and non-discrimination. The concept of “parity of esteem” enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which affirmed that government in Northern Ireland would be exercised “with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions”, has underpinned over twenty years of peace.
Members of the clergy worked tirelessly as mediators throughout the conflict in Northern Ireland, including by providing a space for difficult conversations behind closed doors. The decommissioning of paramilitary weapons in Northern Ireland was independently verified by two members of the clergy, Fr. Alec Reid and Rev. Harold Good – a task emblematic of their trusted position in society.
Religious leaders have also contributed to post-conflict reconciliation and healing and continue to do so today.
Religious and faith-based actors, like other civil society actors, including women leaders, can make a transformative contribution to peacebuilding precisely because of their position outside the conflict. Civil society actors, through their deep roots in their communities, can win over populations to the cause of peace and bring protagonists to the table. It is surely self-evident that we cannot rely only on the parties to a conflict to build shared, sustainable peace. In Ireland’s view and in our experience, peace processes, if they are to be successful, must be inclusive.
When we talk about the role of religious actors in peace, we must take care to ensure a pluralistic approach anchored in civil society, and to avoid privileging certain voices over others. The voices of women must be present at all levels and stages of peacebuilding. We must also acknowledge that members of religious or belief groups are not homogenous, and can themselves face multiple forms of discrimination.
Madam Chair, to conclude – to improve its effectiveness, this Council must better integrate human rights analysis into its work, so that early warning on human rights violations including against religious or belief groups can translate into early action and prevention. Let us make better use of the tools available to us: international humanitarian and human rights law provide us with the framework to ensure that freedom of religion or belief is respected in all circumstances, including in situations of armed conflict. All parties to conflict must comply with their obligations under IHL including to respect religious convictions and practices, and protect places of worship.
Thank you once again for bringing this important issue to the attention of the Council.