Training Workshop for The Gambia Parliamentary Caucus on Freedom of Religion of Belief (FoRB)

The two-day training workshop designed for members of the parliamentary caucus on freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) of the National Assembly of The Gambia took place at the Kairaba Hotel, Banjul, Gambia on 18th -19th February, 2023. The training sought to provide participants with a shared understanding of the concept of FoRB and clarify misconceptions about FoRB and provide them with tools with which they can undertake activities aimed at promoting and protecting FoRB in The Gambia. All the six members of the parliamentary caucus in addition to two senior clerks of parliament participated in the training workshop. Of this, six (6) were male, and two (2) females. The two female participants comprised one Member of Parliament and one committee clerk.

Hon Amadou Camara, the chairman of The Gambia Parliamentary caucus on FoRB expressed his delight to welcome the team from the African Centre for Parliamentary Affairs (ACEPA) to Banjul, Gambia. He noted that prior to the official launch of the Gambia Parliamentary caucus on FoRB on 9th December, 2022, some of the current members of the caucus and other members who served in the old parliament were actively engaged in FoRB activities, nationally and internationally.

They, for instance, undertook sensitization activities in the country promoting peaceful co-existence, tolerance, anti-discrimination practices and against hate speech; they also participated in international conferences on FoRB as well as online learning activities; to broaden the membership base of the caucus, sensitization activities on FoRB are being organised for other interested members of parliament.

The primary objective for the launch of the Parliamentary caucuses on  FoRB in both Sierra Leone and The Gambia under the auspices of the Freedom of Religion or Belief Leadership Network (FoRBLN) programme is for these caucuses to serve as the vanguard for the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights in including freedom of religion or belief. Unpacking the concept of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), disabusing the minds of participants about some common misconceptions and underscoring the importance of FoRB in fostering democracy, peace and security was the subject of discussion during this session. It was noted that the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, is a fundamental and universal human right enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Essentially, FoRB is a human right that we all equally have or must enjoy as members of the human family. Like any other right, FoRB rights are not absolute. There are circumstances, when the State can be justified to limit these citizens’ rights but this will require exceptional circumstance, and verifiable evidence must be adduced to back state’s justification in limiting the right to choose one’s religion, express one’s thought, conscience, belief, etc.

In order to confront the rising tide of governments restrictions of freedom of religion or belief across the globe, a number of governments and international organisations have embarked on concerted actions to protect and promote FoRB by documenting violations and exerting external pressure on state and nonstate actors that do not comply with international standards. Several Western governments and international institutions now have offices specifically devoted to advancing freedom of religion or belief.

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