Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), the fundamental right to have, choose, change and manifest one’s religion or belief, as enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), has perhaps never been more threatened than in today’s world. Authoritative academic analysis research evidences the substantial global decline in FoRB, but despite the efforts of existing international and diplomatic fora, a need remains for work to reverse this trend.

The Commonwealth Initiative for Freedom of Religion or Belief (CIFoRB) project responds to these trends by exploring the critical but under-investigated potential of parliamentarians of the Commonwealth’s 52 independent and equal sovereign states, home to 2.4 billion of the world’s citizens. The Commonwealth is a diverse, multi religious global family of nations, encompassing some of the best and worst practices when it comes to achieving FoRB rights internationally. The Commonwealth affords real opportunities to compare and assess these various states of FoRB realisation and to engage in targeted, sustainable activity to advance FoRB across member states and beyond.

The CIFoRB project, which commenced in July 2015 with a generous grant from The John Templeton Foundation, addresses the key question: How can parliamentarians be effectively equipped to make a significant contribution to reversing the global decline in freedom of religion or belief?

The premise of the project is simple, but transformative. We believe parliamentarians have a unique capacity and opportunity to work within and across national boundaries to promote FoRB rights as human rights and that they can become highly-effective agents of change. CIFoRB provides academic, policy and professional development for parliamentarians to increase the number, knowledge, profile and impact of parliamentarians, their senior advisors and staff across the Commonwealth. CIFoRB’s work will benefit citizens across the Commonwealth by researching and supporting effective parliamentary efforts on FoRB issues.

In this inaugural year, strides have been taken toward this goal. Parliamentary events and interventions have been accompanied by academic research and presentations supportive of CIFoRB’s goals. Among its various projects, the research team compiled an annotated bibliography of key academic research on FoRB issues, presented papers at academic conferences and published op/ed pieces in various media. The team also conducted interviews with high-level leaders and scholars on FoRB issues, including Jan Figel, the European Union’s Special Envoy on FoRB outside the EU, and Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on FoRB. The CIFoRB team have also convened parliamentary events and made presentations at parliamentary and academic meetings on FoRB issues.

CIFoRB also maintains a Twitter feed @ciforb_uob, chronicling project activities, academic and public policy reports and news items on FoRB issues throughout the Commonwealth of Nations—from Antigua to Zambia. The CIFoRB project blog will also report project activities and findings as well as more conceptual and reflective posts to further define FoRB—what it means and why it is important in today’s world.

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