The following text is the speech by Frank Schwabe, German Commissioner for Freedom of Religion and Belief, held on 2 November 2022 at PaRD’s Annual Forum on Religion and Sustainable Development 2022.
dear PaRD members and leadership,
dear guests of PaRD’s Annual Forum,
I am delighted to be able to talk to you today. I warmly thank the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development (PaRD) for inviting me to this important global event. I am also grateful to the Indonesian Government, especially the Ministry of Religious Affairs, for your ongoing support to conduct the Annual Forum on Religion and Sustainable Development. Its great commitment we have seen in the keynote of the Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs, His Excellency Mr. Yaqut Cholil Qoumas.
I believe that Indonesia is the right place to organise this Annual Forum: It is a country with a vision of “Unity in Diversity”. There is a multitude of cultures, ethnicities as well as spiritual, religious and indigenous traditions living together. This helps to generate diverse ideas for the benefit of the people and the environment. We need more people and nations, who embrace the motto of “Unity in Diversity”.
It is unfortunate that I am not able join you on-site in Bali. Because I just returned from Brazil. Yet, I feel that the fresh impressions from this stay in Brazil are directly linked to the programme of this Annual Forum. On my journey I had the great opportunity to get in touch with several indigenous communities. I learned a lot about their traditions and their ways of life, their dignity, their knowledge and their struggle to survive and fight against environmental destruction.
As the German Federal Commissioner for Freedom of Religion and Belief, I see it as my responsibility to take in account all religions and beliefs. Therefore, it is my ambition to set one focus of my international work on the challenging situation of Indigenous peoples. I am doing my work not to shame or blame someone. I do it because I see a responsibility to speak out and help people. I do it out of conviction.
We are living together in a world in which everyone and everything is interconnected. Therefore, we as the world community urgently need to draw not only on democratic values but also on current scientific research along with the wisdom and knowledge that has been handed down to us by our ancestors.
On a global scale, the environment is in a better condition wherever land is seen as a holy place. So as a matter of fact, land inhabited by Indigenous peoples is treated with more respect than elsewhere. This is due to their spirituality, their interconnectedness with the soil. We as a global community have certainly a lot to learn from the positive examples of Indigenous peoples.
It is shocking that even today, in 2022, people from religious and spiritual communities are inhibited to express their faith and beliefs. Even those, who live as preservers of nature, suffer from discrimination, marginalisation, expulsion, land grabbing, physical abuse and other cruelties. In too many parts of the world, fundamental rights of religious minorities and Indigenous peoples are not sufficiently recognised. The gravity of the situation is indicated by the fact that the majority of the global population is not free to openly express their religion or belief. Thus, there is still a long way ahead for us to work together and reach the goal of Freedom of Religion and Belief – in short FoRB – for everyone.
I highly appreciate that this year’s Annual Forum offers the opportunity not only for religious but also for several representatives of Indigenous peoples to share their valuable perspectives, experiences, and knowledge. If I am not mistaken, it is the first time in PaRD’s history that we have such a diverse Annual Forum which will help shaping the global conversation on climate protection. As one highlight I only want to mention the panel that took place earlier today: “Care for Mother Earth – Spiritual and Indigenous Understandings of Pollution and Environmental Protection and Learning for the Future”. I see such sessions as good examples of how respectful and fruitful dialogue and learning can be. And this is what PaRD is about.
Without FoRB, partnerships like PaRD would not exist. And we need more partnerships. Not less. Because more than ever, we are facing severe global challenges. There is the climate crisis. There are wars and conflicts, for instance the Russian war against the Ukraine. And we all experience how this war causes global problems. The current food crisis which especially hit African countries, is just one example.
I believe that PaRD, the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development, plays a vital role in promoting that kind of spirit and cooperative framework. I am optimistic that PaRD will play an even more important role in the future.
I wish you all the very best for the proceedings.