Living in Ghana and Trinidad in my 20s was not only a great introduction to rice and roti, but also to one of the many strengths of the Commonwealth: its religious diversity. Whilst the reasons for this diversity are often painful to accept, most Commonwealth countries now reflect the values found in the Charter of religious freedom and inclusion, affording their people the right to be a full citizen without reference to their religious beliefs or their choice not to have any.
I am therefore heartened that this year’s theme is “an inclusive Commonwealth”. The broad spectrum of beliefs across our 53 counties deserves to be a source of celebration, and parliamentarians like myself are in a unique position to protect this.
An inclusive Commonwealth means including those of all faiths and none. It is this fundamental right that our new team for the Commonwealth Initiative for Freedom of Religion or Belief, ‘CIFoRB’, which is based at the University of Birmingham and in London will promote.
We will be listening to and working with parliamentarians who want to further their country’s record for religious freedom. Sadly there are a growing number of cases within the Commonwealth where religious freedom is under threat and people are suffering. This is an opportunity for the Commonwealth countries to work together to bring about important changes that will result in a truly inclusive Commonwealth.