Both this year and last year at the Ministerial many of us have spoken about the fact that the overwhelming majority of the world’s population live in countries with restrictions – many with severe restrictions – on the freedom of religion or belief. I would also like to share with you some reflections on combining this concern with the political marching orders adopted by the UN in 2017 – the Sustainable Development Goals.With the ambitious Agenda 2030, world leaders have pointed out the direction for all of us. Agenda 2030 is a sustainable development agenda, but it is also, at its heart, a human rights agenda. And if we succeed in understanding and implementing them in tandem, we are in a much better position to deliver real results – at home and abroad.

In a short intervention there is time to highlight only one of the SDGs – Education. Education is a source of independence, of social and economic progress and democratic participation,

But equally education is of critical importance in addressing prejudice and outdated misconceptions. Good educational programmes based on a human rights framework, inclusiveness and gender equality can foster tolerance, citizenship, democracy and respect for freedom of religion or belief.

The central premise of the SDGs is the obligation to “leave no one behind” and to secure all people equality in rights and dignity while pursuing political and economic development.

All human rights are equally important, interdependent and universal. But the right to freedom of religion or belief is often seen as challenging and as an obstacle to the achievement of other human rights, be they the rights of LGBTI persons or women’s rights, including sexual and reproductive rights.

This conflict need not exist. There are many important ways in which efforts to advance religious freedom may promote tolerance and non-discrimination for all groups and minority communities in any society. We must reject any notion of a hierarchy of rights. Freedom of religion or belief must be integrated with – and reinforce – the full range of human rights protection that honor the dignity of all persons.

Thank you.

U.S. Department of State

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