September 23, 2015

Unlikely Alliance of Lawmakers Calls for End to Religious Persecution


An extraordinarily diverse group of lawmakers from around the world called for greater global efforts to end religious persecution and repression at a Seventh-day Adventist co-sponsored conference in New York.

The International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief produced an unlikely alliance of political leaders. Among the more than 100 legislators from some 50 countries were an ayatollah from Iran, Anglican lawmakers from Britain, a Christian member of parliament from Pakistan, Jewish politicians from Israel, Hindu lawmakers from India, and Buddhist legislators from Myanmar.

“In spite of the immense cultural and religious differences between participants, there was a clear consensus around one idea: that in our fight to protect religious freedom we can’t achieve much by working alone, as just one country or one organization,” said Dwayne Leslie, deputy secretary-general of the Adventist-affiliated International Religious Liberty Association, which co-sponsored the conference at the One UN Hotel on Sept. 19. “Rather, we need a multinational approach to really begin to address the steady increase in religious intolerance and repression around the world.”

The International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief is a relatively new organization that was initiated with just 30 legislators in Oslo, Norway, in November 2014. The first conference committed to build an informal worldwide network in support of religious freedom. Since then, the network has expanded rapidly. Space at this year’s meeting filled quickly and soon exceeded its 100-seat limit.

Participants at the conference discussed current religious freedom challenges, heard from victims of religious persecution, and explored ways in which lawmakers could raise awareness about the issue within their own national legislatures. The conference concluded with attendees issuing letters to the governments of three countries: Myanmar, Iran, and Vietnam. The letters highlighted specific religious freedom violations and called on each government to honor its obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements.

Leslie, who serves as director of legislative affairs for the Adventist world church, said the network of political leaders is fundamentally different from many other religious freedom organizations.

“These are all very influential individuals within their own nations,” he said. “They have access to other lawmakers and thought leaders, and they have the ability to make their voices heard.”

Leslie said the group is also remarkable for the sheer scope of its diversity. Europe and other Western nations were represented, but participants also came from Iran, Malaysia, Sudan, Pakistan, Egypt, Senegal, Chile, Brazil, Turkey, Nigeria, Tunisia, and many other countries where freedom to worship rights are compromised.

Leslie said the group plans to keep expanding its network of legislators and intends to meet for its next conference in Berlin in 2016.

The International Religious Liberty Association has its headquarters at the Adventist world church building in Silver Spring, Maryland. Other co-sponsors included the German political foundation Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, the Church of England, the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, and the U.S. government’s Commission on International Religious Freedom.