Intervention by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stef Blok at the Ministerial conference to Advance Religious Freedom, Washington DC, 17/18 July 2019

Your Excellencies,

I’d like to start by congratulating the United States of America on hosting this conference to advance religious freedom.
It sometimes feels as if the world as a whole seems to be growing more intolerant, whether towards religious minorities – and people who don’t hold to a particular belief – or towards LGBTI people.
Let me start by saying that human rights are for everybody.
They are inextricably linked and inalienable.

If we wish to advance religious tolerance and freedom, what exactly do we need to promote?
Achieving a society in which every person can enjoy his or her right to freedom of religion or belief requires persistence and hard work from all of us. Not just by government, but by society as a whole – as shown by the experience of many countries, including my own. A climate of religious tolerance doesn’t just fall into your lap.
I’m glad to see so many colleagues here at this conference to discuss the crucial issue of religious freedom. I’m proud to represent a country where tolerance towards those who think differently is the norm. Where there is a separation between church and state. Where people are free to worship as they wish – or not at all. Where we cherish the bonds forged by our polder landscape: working together in spite of our differences, respecting each other’s rights.
We value religious freedom as one of the key elements of our overall human rights policy. We hold that the right to freedom of religion or belief cannot be achieved without observance of other rights, such as freedom of expression, equal rights for women and equal rights for LGBTI people, enabling everyone to participate in society irrespective of religion, beliefs, political views, race, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.
We have best practices to share, and we want to learn from others. We also want to reinforce our policy.
That is why we’ve recently made more funds available.
That is why we’ve recently appointed a special envoy on freedom of religion or belief, Jos Douma, who is with me here today. He will be our interlocutor on these issues for the next few years.
That is also why we support the Istanbul Process, guiding the implementation of Human Rights Council resolution 16/18. I’m proud to say that we will be hosting the seventh session of that important process in the Netherlands in November.
Our aim is to look not only at how we can combat religious intolerance. But also at how we foster religious tolerance.
We’ll take a practical approach to the conference. We won’t be discussing abstractions, but promoting an inclusive exchange of best practices between practitioners, faith-based actors and people in the field.
Because that’s what we need in order to foster a climate of religious tolerance. We hope to make a positive contribution to that goal during the seventh session in the Netherlands.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Fostering religious tolerance requires courage, communication and honest exchange. And patience: mutual understanding comes in small steps. Sometimes we can’t reach an understanding. And then it’s best to agree to disagree.
Sometimes, fiery passions are ignited. After all, our beliefs are at the core of what defines us as human beings.  
And that’s exactly why we need clear rules of the road. Sound agreement on the bottom lines. Respect for important principles like non-violence, equal treatment and mutual respect.
Principles which have been codified in international treaties and documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 18 of the Declaration states that:
‘Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.’
This remains as true today as it was in 1948 when the Declaration was adopted – by all of us.
It contains a universal principle. A vision of hope we all still share, but which, unfortunately, has not yet become reality (to paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt) ‘for all men and women, everywhere’.
But that must remain our goal. For all of humanity. Whether it’s Christians and Yezidis in Iraq and Syria. Tibetan Buddhists in China. Muslims in Myanmar. Bahá'í in Iran. Or, for that matter, non-believers – all over the globe.
The right enshrined in article 18 is for all, regardless of gender, sexual preference, race, or religious affiliation. This article remains the foundation of our discussions here, at this conference today, and at the seventh session of the Istanbul Process we are proud to be hosting in November.  
I hope to see you all there.
Thank you.