Bahrain set to host joint conference with Europe

BAHRAIN is set to host the second annual Joint EU-Bahrain Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief in May.

The event, from May 2 to 4, organised by the King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence, will be staged at the Gulf Hotel Bahrain Convention and Spa.

Its theme will be divided into two folds:

Cyberspace as a means to decrease terrorism and increase the peace index through freedom of religion or belief; and

The impact of climate change on freedom of religion or belief.

The announcement was made yesterday by the centre’s deputy chairperson Betsy Mathieson during the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)’s 146 Assembly session.

The assembly, which started on Saturday, concludes today with the much-anticipated Manama Declaration.

“These are two areas of concern to the esteemed delegates of this assembly, and I warmly invite you all to join us for this special conference where we can continue these important conversations together,” said Ms Mathieson.

“We would like to congratulate you all on this important assembly and thank you all for your hard work and heartfelt dedication in the pursuit of a more just and peaceful world for all,” she added.

“No one should underestimate or under appreciate the vital importance of your work.

“We humbly call on the esteemed delegates of the IPU to endorse and adopt ‘The Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration’ as an IPU Collective Action to promote inclusion and peaceful coexistence and extinguish the flames of intolerance.

“This would be a truly noble outcome from such a distinguished and revered Assembly of Parliamentarians and we clearly state our willingness to move forward with you on this crucial path to peace for humankind.”

The declaration that reflects His Majesty King Hamad’s vision and approach to promote coexistence, peace and tolerance and combat extremism and terrorism in the world was launched in the US in September 2017.

It calls for religious freedom for all and the declaration, authored by the King, has been universally acknowledged and praised globally.

Around 2,000 parliamentarians and officials from 143 countries are in Bahrain to deliberate on a range of global and regional issues during the conference, themed ‘Promoting peaceful coexistence and inclusive societies: Fighting intolerance’.

“The Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration is the foundational document for all our work both inside Bahrain and globally,” said Ms Mathieson.

“It has been translated into several languages and is used by educators, religious leaders, civil society organisations and is being merged into school curricula,” she added.

“The Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration is a powerful and courageous document written in simple no-nonsense language, designed to touch the hearts and minds of every man, woman and child on our planet.

“It so touched the heart of His Holiness Pope Francis who warmly embraced it and quoted it several times during his historic Apostolic visit to Bahrain in November 2022.”

Inspired by the Apostolic visit and Pope Frances’ words, the centre hosted a two-day Conference in Rome, Italy, entitled ‘Ignorance is the Enemy of Peace’ and celebrated the official European launch of The Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration earlier this year.

This was followed by a visit to the European Parliament in Brussels for a Youth Seminar on Peaceful Coexistence and a two-day Conference on Cyber Space and how to use it to combat Hate Crimes and bring about Peaceful Coexistence, with the Joint EU-Bahrain Youth Working Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

“Bahrain works diligently and sensitively towards achieving The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and the centre focuses mainly on SDG 16 and SDG 17,” said Ms Mathieson.

l SDG 16: ‘Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’; and

l SDG 17: ‘Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development’.

“We are actively looking for new partners and would be happy to meet like-minded partners for future collaborations,” urged Ms Mathieson.

“Multicultural, multi-faith communities living harmoniously in an inclusive and diverse society is not new to Bahrain,” she added. “Bahrain has always been an oasis of peace and love where all cultures, faiths and ethnicities are not simply ‘tolerated’ but are warmly embraced and respected as members of the Bahraini family in the spirit of mutual respect and love which prevails in the kingdom.

“The Kingdom of Bahrain has centuries of evidential history to support this. From circa the 4th to 7th Centuries AD, the north island of Muharraq was a major centre of Christianity.

“Around this time Christians in the region were targeted for persecution by the Byzantine Empire and the Nestorian Christians of the Church of the East found a safe-haven in Bahrain and archeological evidence is still being uncovered today that further supports this.”

She added that Bahrain has always recognised the importance of religious freedom hosting the first church in the region in 1904, the first synagogue in the region in 1935, and the oldest Hindu temple in the region established in 1817, making it more than 200 years old.

“Today Bahrain has over many hundreds of mosques, the magnificent new Roman Catholic Our Lady of Arabia Cathedral, the largest ever built in the Arabian Peninsula, and many churches and temples to serve the needs of the faithful with religious services being delivered in over 10 languages as required,” she explained.

“Bahrainis and expatriates alike were enjoying the right to freedom of religion and belief more than 150 years before the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights addressed this in article 18, in 1948.

“Today, the King passionately and sincerely continues the historic commitment of his noble ancestors to religious freedom and this right is enshrined in Article 22 of The Constitution of Bahrain.”

Ms Mathieson said today people live in a world where terrorists and extremists use religion for their evil intent.

“There is a global increase in religiously motivated hate crimes with the cyber-space being used to radicalise and sow the seeds of hate and violence,” she added.

“While we may be fortunate enough to be able to worship freely, there are many who are not so fortunate.

“Statistics reveal that up to 80 per cent of the worlds’ population live in areas where religious freedom is either denied or severely restricted.”

She said today the world’s population stands at eight billion.

“This means that more than 6.4bn people’s lives are not blessed with freedom of religion and belief,” stressed Ms Mathieson.

“Peaceful coexistence is impossible without freedom of religion or relief and without it, sadly, wars and conflicts will continue to devastate our world,” she added.

“Post Covid-19, and in the midst of serious conflicts, the global economy is suffering badly.

“Research has shown that the religious freedom index and the economic prosperity of a country are directly linked. The higher the religious freedom index is in a country, the higher the economic prosperity of that country.

“So, it makes sense not just from a human rights perspective but also from an economic prosperity perspective, that governments consider paying more attention to this most fundamental of human rights.”





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