Excellences, dear colleagues,
First at all, many thanks to Secretary Pompeo for bringing us together for an extremely important purpose.
We are all here because we agree that the right to believe or not to believe, that the freedom to profess and practice one’s faith, is birthright of every human being; bedrock of democracy and essence of global peace and security and we believe this right needs to be further advanced and better protected.
Because, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt put it more than 80 years ago and I quote: „Where freedom of religion has been attacked, the attack has come from sources opposed to democracy. Where democracy has been overthrown, the spirit of free worship has disappeared.”
In Slovakia, these words resonate very loudly especially this year, as we mark 30 years of liberty and religious freedom in Central Europe. So we approach this issue mindful of the past.
All the more worrying it is that after decades of peace in Europe, this value is not enjoyed universally and we can see troubling trends all across our continent – and the world.
For that reason, Slovakia is determined to reinforce safeguards of freedom of belief and to promote religious tolerance, with focus on three things:
First, education: to instigate open-minded and tolerant attitudes towards different religions;
Second, dialogue: to prevent misuse of religion as a political instrument;
And third engagement: to identify the sources of hatred, intolerance and extremism and address their root causes. This means engaging all parts of society – not only on the state – but the youth, civil society, religious leaders.
To advance these goals, Slovakia has recently undertaken a series of steps at home, to counter displays of intolerance. These include:
- a significant amendment to the Criminal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure, that allows a more effective prosecution of offence of extremism, including the prosecution of defamation of a nation, race and belief. The scope to prosecute incision to violence based on various grounds including religion was broadened and redefined.
- In September 2018, the government supported new exhibitions in the Holocaust Museum in the city of Sereď with donation of one million euro.
- In November 2018 Slovak Parliament adopted a working definition of antisemitism, which had been developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. This would facilitate criminal prosecution of hate crimes and hate speech.
Aside from working from home, Slovakia – as a firm believer in multilateralism and the power of joint action – is actively promoting religious tolerance also at the multilateral platforms. To name a few instances:
- Supporting the freedom of religion is one of Slovakia´s priorities in the UN Human Rights Council.
- As a current Chairmanship of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe we set the promotion of non-discrimination based on religion as one of our main goals. Among other initiatives, we organized High-level conference on combating anti-Semitism in the OSCE region in Bratislava in February of this year. We used the opportunity to remind the OSCE participating States that we cannot overlook manifestations of anti-Semitism and intolerance and need to counter the extremist agenda that once again seems to be getting fertile grounds in Europe.
- And lastly, Slovakia continues to provide development and humanitarian aid to vulnerable persons in the partner countries, including in Middle East and Africa, and carries out humanitarian activities according to the needs of the international community.
We continue to view any attack on religious freedom not only as an unjust threat to those whom they target; but also to the country’s own stability. Promotion of religious freedom is therefore of both a moral and a strategic value.