Catholic Union presses Minister on religious freedom commitments

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Minister, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon

The Catholic Union has called on the Government to promote freedom of religion or belief around the world in a meeting with the Minister of State in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

The Catholic Union secured the meeting with the Minister, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, on Wednesday 1 June to discuss progress made in implementing the recommendations of the Bishop of Truro’s report into Christian persecution.

The report – commissioned by the then Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt – found that 250 million Christians around the world face persecution because of their faith. The Government committed to implement the 22 recommendations of the report in full.

Catholic Union Director, Nigel Parker, was joined in the meeting by John Pontifex and John Newton from Aid to the Church in Need, along with the Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Freedom of Religion and Belief, Fiona Bruce MP.

Mr Parker pressed Lord Ahmad on whether there had been an independent review of the implementation of the Truro recommendations as required after three years and whether the UK was working on imposing sanctions on individual perpetrators of religious persecution – something the Truro report recommended. Lord Ahmad said that the independent review had been completed and that Government now had powers to impose sanctions under its Global Human Rights Sanctions regime established in 2020.

Mr Pontifex asked what the Government was doing to bolster research into the intersection of freedom of religion with broader human rights issues such as kidnapping, forced conversion and forced marriage, referring to ACN’s Hear Her Cries report and the specific case of 14-year-old Maira Shahbaz in Pakistan. Lord Ahmad said tackling gender-based violence was a strategic priority of the Government.

The meeting comes ahead of a major international conference on freedom of religion and belief being hosted by the Government in London next month. Both the Catholic Union and Aid to the Church in Need will be attending.

Nigel Parker, Director of the Catholic Union, comments: “These are difficult times for so many people – both at home and around the world. While the focus of Foreign Office Ministers is rightly on supporting people in Ukraine, it’s also right that we don’t lose sight of other challenges – including religious persecution.

“The Catholic Union welcomed the Truro report and we’ve been working hard to hold the Government accountable for seeing the recommendations implemented. While progress has been made, there are some areas where the Government could be doing more to make religious freedom more central to the FCDO’s operations and especially its culture.

“The Ministerial Conference next month is a great opportunity to cement the UK’s position as a world leader in promoting freedom of religion and belief. The Government should be ambitious in its aims for the Conference and seize the opportunity to make life better for Christians and other people of faith around the world.”

John Pontifex, Head of Press and Information at Aid to the Church in Need, comments: “It was very timely to have had this meeting, especially in the immediate run up to the Ministerial Conference, and with the review of the implementation of the Truro report’s recommendations having just taken place.

“It was important to highlight the extent to which girls and women from religious minorities suffer and we were glad to hear how the Minister and the team are taking this matter seriously. We all need to work together to follow up these words of concerns with action.”