Thank you, Member of Parliament Abid Raja, for having convened this meeting.
For as we gather here, people fear for their lives, knowing that their faith exposes them. To prejudice. To hatred. To violence.
They are drawn between their urge to be true to themselves, true to what they believe.
And their wish to be safe. For their children and loved ones to be safe. Right now – many people know that they cannot have both.
For most people in the world, religion matters. For some it is a vague part of their identity. For others, religion is at the center of their being.
Billions of people identify with a religious belief.
Religious freedom applies to the holders of all religious beliefs. And to non-believers; those who renounce religion and have no belief at all.
The respect for religious freedom is a litmus test of the respect for human rights in general in a society.
Where there is no religious freedom, other human rights are often violated as well.
This should be no surprise to us. Freedom of belief, freedom of expression, freedom of the press. They are all inter-connected. They are the pillars of any democracy that respects the rights of its citizens.
Today we are witnessing worrying trends all over the world.
We are shocked, outraged and deeply saddened by the violence and discrimination that members of religious minorities suffer.
The situation for religious minorities in Iraq and Syria is critical. But we see disturbing developments in other countries too.
Some states have legislation that openly discriminates against individuals on the basis of their religion or belief.
Places of worship are targeted; people, religious buildings, property.
As people come together, they are spread by terror. As people seek comfort, they face their worst fear. As people kneel humbly before their god, they are struck to the ground by fellow human beings.
Such attacks violate the rights, not only of the individual believer, but of whole communities.
I have drawn a bleak picture here today. Rightfully so. Because these are disturbing developments. That must be met by determined action.
Religious hatred is often rooted in extremist groups.
Hatred is a source of violations of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief.
Combatting hatred, combatting prejudice and estrangement, is about securing the freedom of religion or belief. But it is even broader than that. It is about eliminating the root causes of any kind of discrimination.
Very soon we will present a white paper to our Parliament on human rights. Norway will continue to promote freedom of religion or belief as a fundamental human right. Safeguarding the rights of religious minorities is a priority.
Human rights issues need to be addressed at all levels. Parliaments have a key role to play. Let us work together.