ECRL called for protecting the right to uphold religious practices, and made a statement on the situation in Ukrain during its annual meeting in Geneva 13 – 14 May.

European Council of Religious Leaders – Religions for Peace, gathered for its annual Council meeting in Geneva 13 – 14 May, 2014 observed with concern that the right of religious communities to uphold their traditional practices is threatened in a number of European countries and institutions.

ECRL has repeatedly expressed strongly that all citizens have the right to freedom of religion or belief, whether they represent majority or minority religious traditions in respective societies. In our 2011 Moscow Declaration we resolved to: “work to overcome perceived and actual oppositions between human rights and traditional and religious values and to speak against both the misuse of the language of traditional values for example to protect established power structures and also the misuse of the language of human rights to promote agendas that are inconsistent with human dignity”. As expressed in the same declaration we are fully aware that “general recognition of the importance of some traditional values should not imply the acceptance of all, since they vary both within and across cultures”.

Recent political initiatives in individual countries and specifically in Council of Europe (CoE) are aimed at prohibiting age-old practices that are close to the heart of religious traditions, including the circumcision of young boys. The Parliamentary Assembly resolution was a serious step backwards, and therefore we express our appreciation to the CoE General Secretary who distanced himself from the resolution. Recent attempts have also been made in the same and other institutions to discredit religious communities by naming them “sects” and thereby intending to take rights away from their members that are enshrined in UN declarations, European Convention and European Charter on Human Rights and commitments adopted by the OSCE. Initiatives have also been taken to ban ritual slaughter satisfying kosher and halal consumers in some countries. We have further witnessed attempts to remove religious symbols from the public space.

We believe that careful considerations should be made with respect to human rights, human dignity and responsible animal treatment when religious traditions are upholding their practices significant to their belief systems.

European Council of Religious Leaders – Religions for Peace call on national governments, Council of Europe and European Union to:

  • Reject attempts to impose restrictions on religious practices that are acceptable within human rights standards and respecting human dignity
  • Accept the right of parents according to their religious beliefs to practice circumcision of young boys through responsible medical procedures
  • Facilitate the practice of ritual slaughters that satisfy kosher and halal consumers carried out in respect of animals treatment standards
  • Implement policies that allow religious expressions, such as symbols of faith, in the public sphere as long as they do not cause hazard or are preventing others from practicing their faith or conviction with dignity

We, members of European Council of Religious Leaders commit ourselves to call upon our religious communities to:

  • Follow internationally accepted conventions and standards in our religious practices
  • Promote the right for religious communities to key religious practices that are not in breach of these conventions and standards
  • Contribute to national and European policies that build bridges between religious traditions and accepted conventions and standards

Statement on the situation in Ukraine

European Council of Religious Leaders – Religions for Peace, gathered for its annual Council meeting in Geneva 13 – 14 May, 2014 looked with great concern at the many crises around the world, like Syria and Boko Haram in Nigeria. As a European body the members were greatly alarmed by the developing situation in Ukraine. The Council members have been following the seriously escalating developments in Ukraine over the last weeks. The people of Ukraine are our brothers and sisters.

We observe that the situation in Ukraine is complex with multiple layers of interests and conflicts. As these play out in increasing violence, the human sufferings and humanitarian needs cause grave concerns.

As religious leaders we do not have political mandates, but we fully support the Joint Geneva statement issued by USA, European Union, Ukraine and Russia on 17 April:

“All sides must refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions. The participants strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including anti-semitism.”

We, members of European Council of Religious Leaders acknowledge that Ukrainian leaders – both in government and opposition – have the ultimate responsibility to protect Ukrainian people and their human dignity. We call upon all parties to show restraint and find acceptable political solutions to the current crisis. We further call on all external actors, governments or non-governmental bodies, to show wisdom and restrain from actions that contribute to escalation of the conflicts and human sufferings.

From our own experiences we value interfaith dialogue and cooperation as means to building peace. We therefore support the Ukrainian religious leaders and their communities in their interfaith dialogue, and encourage further initiatives of cooperation that can help people and societies to reconcile and live together and solve problems with peaceful means.

We support the call of the Russian Orthodox Church for peace and the All Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations who called on “the international community, to Russian authorities …the countries-guarantors of the security of Ukraine – the United States of America and Great Britain, to the European Union, the United Nations and OSCE” to show restraint… “and all the people of the good will to be in solidarity with us, to pray for Ukraine and Ukrainian nation.”

Finally we urge that weapons are laid down before the conflict turns into a full civil war, and we call on all parties to choose dialogue over hateful speech and mediation over violence.

The European Council of Religious Leaders – Religions for Peace (ECRL) brings together senior religious leaders from Europe’s historical religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam together with Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and Zoroastrians.ECRL has participatory status with the Council of Europe. ECRL is one of five regional Interreligious Councils with the Religions for Peace network. Religions for Peace – accredited to the United Nations – is the world’s largest and most representative multi-religious coalition advancing common action for peace since 1970.