OSCE conference throws a spotlight on freedom of religion or belief in the digital age

OSCE conference throws a spotlight on freedom of religion or belief in the digital age

VIENNA/WARSAW 9 November 2020

It was good to be able to take part again in this OSCE meeting on behalf of the MT, although it was hard logging in to zoom this time and quite a few technical issues, however it was good to hear views from others. Here is a writeup from the OSCE website.

As freedom of religion or belief comes increasingly under pressure, the need to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by digital technologies and at the same time minimize the dangers they pose is becoming ever more important. This topic is the focus of the OSCE’s final human rights conference of the year, beginning today.

“We are experiencing grave threats to peace and security across the OSCE area, with people being targeted for their religious beliefs or simply for their way of life,” said Inid Milo, Head of the 2020 Albanian OSCE Chairmanship Task Force. “We are therefore delighted to see so many participants today. We look forward to an open dialogue on ways of furthering the right to freedom of religion for all, sharing good practices and providing concrete recommendations that we can all learn from and emulate.”

The online meeting, organized by the OSCE’s 2020 Albanian Chairmanship together with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), brings together more than 300 participants from governments, civil society, religious or belief communities and international organizations from across the OSCE region. As well as discussing recent trends in national legal frameworks and government policies, they will debate the role of civil society both in promoting and protecting this right and helping to build more tolerant societies.

A particular focus of the meeting will be on the challenges brought by the insidious spread of hatred over digital platforms, but also the opportunities of rapid technological development for creating a culture of mutual respect and breaking down the inequalities and barriers that have stood in the way of faith communities in the past.

“We don’t often associate freedom of religion or belief with the digital world, but in fact digitization offers many opportunities, particularly during the difficult circumstances caused by the pandemic when communities are unable to meet in person,” said ODIHR’s First Deputy Director Katarzyna Gardapkhadze. “However, greater effort is needed to combat the use of digital tools as a platform for intolerance and hatred against people simply because of their religion or belief.”

With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, emergency measures were imposed in many countries that have sped up digitization in many spheres of life. At the same time, they have contributed to growing restrictions on freedom of religion or belief in some places, often introduced in the name of ‘national security’ and beyond the limitations stipulated in international law. This has intensified prejudices against members of faith communities, which in some places has spilled over into hate crime.

“The lockdowns have not only enhanced the status of the internet as the premier global public forum, offering many solutions including to religious and belief communities, but also highlighted many forms of digital divides,” said Dr Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. “These divides are imposed not only due issues of access, but are also driven by hate mongers and cyberbullies, and call for a multi-stakeholder response to guarantee digital inclusion to all.”

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