FoRB at the Forefront: UNGA's September 20th Side-Event on Religious Freedom and the SDGs

FoRB at the Forefront: UNGA's September 20th Side-Event on Religious Freedom and the SDGs
Source: © United Nations


Emily Wolfe 

Human Rights Researcher,

Global Human Rights Defence

On September 20th, the United Nations headquarters became a focal point for a crucial discussion. While the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) had been firmly established in 2015, this side-event delved deeper into the intricate relationship between the SDGs and the Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB).

The hall was a testament to diversity, with policymakers, government officials, UN experts –  including UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Nazila Ghanea – and faith leaders from various corners of the world attending the event. Their collective aim was to explore the interlinkages between FoRB and the SDGs, share invaluable experiences, and pinpoint gaps and future opportunities.

Central to the discussions was the 2030 Agenda's pledge to "leave no one behind." Conversations underscored the universality of human rights, drawing from the Vienna Declaration's emphasis on rights being "universal, indivisible, and interdependent."

A significant highlight was the emphasis on grassroots initiatives, especially those that involved women and youth. Religious actors historically have provided unwavering support in underdeveloped and conflict-ridden societies. Their established "governance systems" and humanitarian efforts have cultivated trust within diverse communities. However, despite their alignment with the UN 2030 Agenda's values, their contributions often go underrecognised. This event sought to bring these contributions to the forefront.

The objectives set for the day were ambitious. There was a clear intent to showcase the pivotal role religious and traditional actors play in advancing the SDGs. The discussions aimed to generate ideas to address inequalities within religious communities and to bolster partnerships at various governance levels.

A proposal that garnered widespread attention was the suggestion to include an explicit reference to FoRB in the post-2030 agenda. This inclusion would ensure that the multifaceted contributions of religious freedoms to global development remain a central theme in future global discussions.

By the event's conclusion, the anticipated outcome was evident: to catalyse dialogue and collaboration between local actors and policymakers. This gathering provided a platform for stakeholders to strategise on the promotion of FoRB in the post-2030 agenda, reinforcing the commitment to the central pledge of "leaving no one behind."

The September 20th side-event, thus, marked not just a reflection on past commitments but a renewed dedication to fostering a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable future for all.