Religious Leaders: Equal Citizenship Rights Can Help Bring About World Peace

Geneva, 27 June 2018 - Equal citizenship rights are fundamental to counter discrimination and advance social cohesion. This was the crucial message stressed by participants at a world conference on religion and human rights held at the UN in Geneva.

The World Conference on Religions, Creeds and Other Value Systems was aimed at identifying ways in which religions and belief systems can jointly promote inclusive citizenship rights. For many of the major faith traditions, including those that belong to the Abrahamic family, human rights are both grounded in faith and universal. Making this point in his address to the conference, Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), reflected that “Human rights are based on our certain faith that God created all people in His image and likeness and gave both a unique identity as well as equal rights and fundamental freedoms to all His creatures.”

In particular, nationality and citizenship must be available to immigrants, regardless of their status, Msgr. Vitillo insisted. Catholic teaching cautions against leaving people stateless and urges “solidarity in receiving and including those forced to leave their homelands because of religious, political or ethnic persecution, or because of abject poverty or other causes of forced displacement.”

The World Conference on “Religions, Creeds and Other Value Systems: Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights” was held at UN headquarters in Geneva, on 25 June 2018, under the Patronage of H.R.H. Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan. Organized by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, its main purpose was to identify ways in which religions and belief systems can jointly promote inclusive citizenship rights. More than 30 speakers, including leaders from the major world religions, addressed the gathering.

In a message read by Msgr. Vitillo, H.E. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, expressed the conviction that “equality among all the members of the one human family is a fundamental value.” Thus “no one, no ethnic, religious or political group can claim more rights than others because of their belonging to a particular ethnicity, religion or political party.”

Cardinal Tauran suggested that “separation between religion and politics” can be beneficial for citizenship equality. He thus recommended “omitting, from identity cards and other documents, any mention of religious affiliation or membership.” He also praised collaboration between believers and civil society organizations.

A ten-point strategy to achieve equal citizenship

The conference's Final Declaration highlights spiritual convergence among religions as a means to turn the tide of rising xenophobia, racism and intolerance, which resorts “to the distortion of faith as a pretext for exclusion and discrimination.”

A fundamental tenet of all religions is to develop peaceful societies. “Therefore,” the Declaration reads, “it is important to involve faith-based organizations in responding with a unified voice to the hijacking of religion by violent groups who thereby [lack] legitimacy for their deadly ideologies and justify violence between and within faiths and denominations.”

The Declaration includes a ten-point strategy to achieve equal citizenship, which is seen as essential for moving towards social cohesion by building inclusive societies and preventing conflict. The strategy touches upon issues of integration, the need to reconsider the negative accents embedded in the concept of ‘minority,’ and the importance of ensuring that all actors – State, civil society and religious organizations, among others – work together towards achieving equal citizenship rights.

“The implementation of equal citizenship rights will gradually weaken discrimination, whether gender-related or based on other specificities including, inter alia, disability, ethnic or religious origin, age, access to employment, healthcare or sharing of resources,” says the Declaration.

The document also stresses the importance of equal citizenship rights with regard to gender – ensuring that women have access to citizenship independently from men – and the role of education in the implementation of those rights.