Beauftragter der Bundesregierung für Religions- und Weltanschauungsfreiheit

Rede auf der Jahresvollversammlung der International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development (PaRD)

am 18. Oktober 2023 in Berlin

 Frank Schwabe, Beauftragter der Bundesregierung für weltweite Religions- und Weltanschauungsfreiheit, bei seiner Rede bei der Jahresvollversammlung der International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development (PaRD)
 Frank Schwabe, Beauftragter der Bundesregierung für weltweite Religions- und Weltanschauungsfreiheit, bei seiner Rede bei der Jahresvollversammlung der International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development (PaRD) in Berlin

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Especially the many guests from abroad,

Welcome to Berlin and to Germany. I warmly thank the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development (PaRD) for inviting me to this important global event. I am very pleased to be here today as the Federal Government Commissioner for Freedom of Religion or Belief and to speak about what religions, what faith communities and what religious actors can do to advance sustainable development – to strengthen human rights, improve education and protect the environment and the climate.

First of all, I would also like to pause in the day-to-day political business.

Just like yourselves as representatives of religiously motivated organizations, as ambassadors of your faith community, I am still very much under the impression of the terrible events in Israel and the Gaza Strip. All of us here are united by the idea that religions can contribute to peace and reconciliation, that faith gives individuals hope and comfort, that societies with religious communities become stronger and more resistant to hatred, exclusion and misanthropy. But we are also being tested these days. Aren't the differences greater than what we have in common? Is religion perhaps too often misused to legitimize acts of violence, conflicts or even wars?

The answer to these challenges and uncertainties, which undoubtedly exist, must not be: we withdraw. The opposite must be the case: we use the moment to promote even more strongly. To promote that religions enter into exchange with each other, that religious actors use their potential and their high credibility even more to advance peace and reconciliation. Many of you and I have had excellent experiences with that and I am convinced also with much more.

We all know: Religion matters! Four out of five people worldwide feel related to a religion, to a faith.

Religious communities and faith-based organisations are key advocates for human rights and important players in the fight against injustice and poverty. I have been observing religious actors for many years, serving as one of the strongest pillars in civil society engaging with peace, equality, dignity, and human rights. In quite a few regions of the world, state structures are too weak to reliably take over the safeguarding of public services. Religious actors do not shy away from conflicts, also with governments. Their word weighs heavily, and they often have a high credibility among the population. Such tireless dedication to people and their rights is something I have rarely seen elsewhere.

Alvaro Ramazzini from Guatemala made a great impression on me at the very beginning of my time as a member of the German parliament. I met him on my first trip to Latin America – at that time he was still Bishop in San Marcos in the western part of the country. There, the population was struggling with the environmental destruction caused by gold mining. Although many people found work in the mines, the effects on the environment, health and especially on the indigenous population were noticeable.

The Maya people report the poisoning of their water sources, livestock dying after drinking well water, and the destruction of their ancestral land. In forced relocations, the rights of those affected are regularly disregarded, and adequate compensation is rare. This is despite the fact that, according to the provisions of international conventions, large-scale mining projects may only be carried out if the local indigenous communities give their free, prior and informed consent. As a result of this marginalization of the rights of a population group, violent conflicts occur in which both private security companies and state forces are involved.

Alvaro Ramazzini was the strong voice of the local population in the fight for better environmental standards and a good mining law. He tried to hold the government accountable, made the destruction of nature and the environment public and demanded the closure of the mine to protect the population.

Not without consequences. Over the next few years, he was under a lot of pressure, receiving dozens of threats. Ramazzini was not deterred. Even now, in a politically turbulent phase in his home country, he does not remain silent. Instead, he continues to oppose corruption and the cartels that prevent Guatemala from developing. In the meantime, he has been appointed cardinal, and just a few weeks ago he was in Germany and called on the German Government for more support of Guatemala and its people.

I can't appreciate the work he does enough and know how much he needs protection and support. And that's really point 2 that I would like to share with you here.
Especially highly engaged religious actors need protection and support.

It is not uncommon to see attempts of intimidation, mental and physical attacks, or unlawful arrests, especially if they raise their voice against governments and human rights abuses. In many parts of the world, religious actors and organisations are under surveillance and pressure as a key pillar of civil society. Like many others, they have experienced shrinking spaces in their work and in civil society in general. It is my assignment as Commissioner to protect the rights of religious actors and communities, ensure that they can speak out and harness their potentials, locally, regionally and globally.

Not only you and I know: the German government also knows: international cooperation has a strong partner in religious communities.

My ministry – the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has been working with the two major Christian aid organizations Bread for the World and MISEREOR for 60 years now. In 2016, it developed the strategy „Religions as Partners in Development Cooperation“. This gave rise to the Religion for Sustainable Development sector project. It goes beyond cooperation with the two major Christian churches and works with organizations and interfaith initiatives from various religious communities, including Bahá‘í, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, to contribute to the goals of the 2030 Agenda.

In an increasingly multipolar world, multilateral cooperation and inclusive multi-actor partnerships that more fully engage civil society, including religious actors, in policy-making and visioning the future are critical.

I am glad that in 2016, PaRD was established with the support of various partners. PaRD is a unique global partnership with over 165 members. You are part of it, adding quite significantly to the value of this network. Together with others, you ensure that development continues to advance around the world.

You cooperate in working groups on climate and environmental protection, gender justice, peace and social cohesion, health, and freedom of religion and belief. You are also an important contact for politicians like me when it comes to expertise in individual countries.

I am convinced: this program is established and well known. It is now time to take the next step and spread the commitment over several shoulders. I am sure that we will manage to win even more partners for this network.

Frank Schwabe

German Federal Commissioner for Freedom of Religion or Belief