Honorable Secretary, Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very glad to address this Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom on behalf of Czech Republic.

There are worrying signs that violations of right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, intolerance and xenophobia are on the rise in our societies. As these violations often constitute early indicators of potential conflicts, it seems that the challenges are greater than ever.

We concur with the gist of the statements of concern prepared by the host country.

Defending human rights is at the core of the Czech foreign policy. We are determined to promote freedom of religion or belief without distinction of any kind. Respecting the principles of equality and non-discrimination, our policy on religious freedom is guided by the overall Human Rights Concept with 10 priority countries. On top of these 10 countries we continuously support local NGOs through quick-impact projects in any country. So far, we have funded projects related to religious freedom p. e. in Myanmar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt or Cuba. Above that, our Programme of development cooperation and its numerous educational projects are based on respect for religious freedom.

Situation of human rights defenders in specific countries, such as Myanmar, Russia, China or MENA region, are also raised in our statements in multilateral human rights fora and in bilateral contacts.

Protecting freedom of expression or association and assembly is an essential value gained in democracies. On the other hand, there is a need to defend against those who exploit these rights by inciting hatred and violence, including on the grounds of religion. We traditionally support intercultural and inter-faith dialogue through various conferences such as the annual Prague Conference Forum 2000, or regular dialogue with countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. This autumn, we are planning to organize already the fourth conference which should explore connections between intercultural dialogue and prevention of violence, discuss the main drivers of violent extremism and observe potential similarities across different cases of violent acts which might help us to identify some transferable lessons.

We believe that enhancing understanding between different groups is crucial for overcoming both open and latent conflicts. We therefore call on all actors to come together and advocate for mutual understanding and respect and recognition of human rights.

I thank you for your attention.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future