ACEPA Holds  Roundtable Meeting on FoRB in Ghana

The African Centre for Parliamentary Affairs (ACEPA) in partnership with the International Panel of Parliamentarians on Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB) and the African Parliamentarians’ Association for Human Rights (AfriPAHR) is implementing a project to advance issues of Freedom of Religion or Belief in Africa.

A roundtable meeting was organized in Accra and brought together Parliamentarians, religious leaders, and CSOs to brainstorm and deliberate on issues related to freedom of religion and belief in Ghana and on the African continent.

The chairman for the meeting Hon Sanid Suleman Adamu, who is also a Steering Group member of AfriPAHR said MPs have duties as representatives of the people to voice out for protection of human rights, especially freedom of religion and belief. He said AfriPAHR was founded in 2017, as an independent, non-partisan network of parliamentarians from the African continent that works to advance democracy, freedom of religion or belief, and human rights to build a fairer and inclusive Africa, through diplomacy and foster strategic alliances between nations.

Hon Sanid MP for Ahafo Ano North said Ghana’s caucus which is yet to be inaugurated believed the role of MPs goes beyond enactment of laws and that they are better position to ensure citizens enjoy the freedom of region or belief and any tradition of practices.

He said their work focuses on building the capacity of regional parliamentarians and legislators, conducting advocacy and fact-finding missions related to human rights, and creating public awareness in Ghana and Africa region, nothing that, ACEPA comes in as a strategic partner to help the association with its parliamentary work experience.

Hon Sani said, Ghana’s parliament caucus currently has about 15 registered members and targets about 30 members when the association is officially inaugurated. In his presentation of what-on-what Freedom of Religion or Belief (FORB) stands for, a Senior Governance Advisor at ACEPA, Mr. Issifu Lampo said, the right to freedom of thought, religion, or belief is a fundamental and universal human right articulated in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

He said if Ghana is to make progress in protecting of Freedom of Religion or Belief (FORB), then parliament and parliamentarians have a major role not to only enact laws but to as well advocate and create awareness of the need for respect for freedom of individual choice of religion and belief.

He noted that even though everyone is equal as members of the human family, “It is an important right that protects our freedoms, based on the conscience and reason humans are protected.”

Mr. Lampo explained that freedom of religion or belief violations could “range from experiencing the discriminatory impacts of a certain law or policy to experiencing systematic targeting because of your religion or beliefs.”

“Many small violations or inequalities can accumulate to become persecution and even lead to genocide,” the ACEPA policy Advisor added.

He said FoRB can as well be limited by the state, “but only in exceptional situations, and with a high threshold of evidence required from those seeking to enforce limitations.”

“Restrictions are only justified if “limitations are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others,” he further explained.

Mr. Lampo added that countries that are assigned to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), are obligated to make sure that there is no discrimination or violence in law, policy, or practice because of religion or belief, no matter who the perpetrator is, emphasizing that, “ If someone targets another person because of their religion or belief, or their religion or beliefs, this is a violation of the right to FoRB.”

“FoRB is not just about interfaith harmony. FoRB is a dynamic rather than a static right. It permits people to change their religion or belief, supports diversity, and provides the legal basis for human rights for all.

It is not an exclusively Western or Christian concept. Its ideas can be found in many non-Western religious and philosophical traditions which have elevated human dignity and respect between people of different beliefs for centuries,” he explained to the Human Rights MPs.

He, therefore, assured that ACEPA would step up the efforts and provide the resources required in support of parliamentarians to protect those who are on the front line in the fight for human rights and ensure that existing human rights standards are applied.

Mr. Ibrahim Inusah, Programmes Officer for ACEPA took the MPs through the national context of FORB, the case of Ghana and Malawi, and the challenges that the two nations face.

He said Support from the International Panel of Parliamentarians on Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB) to advance issues of Freedom of Religion or Belief in Africa is necessary and ACEPA would collaborate with AfriPAHR to implement some of the FORB issues.

According to him, “Every country on the African continent is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) article 18, with its expanded articulation on the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), stressing that, ACEPA would work to deepen inter-faith peaceful co-existence and allow citizens to freely practice the religion and belief of their choice.

He identified the recent issues of Rastafarian (wearing of dreadlocks) involving Students wearing dreadlocks and Achimota Senior High School, Muslim students fasting during Ramadan and Wesley Girls Senior High School, wearing of hijab by female Muslim students in state institutions and school authorities, Witchcraft practice in the Northern part and People with Albinism, among others as some of the discriminatory issues affecting IPPFORB activities.

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