Interview with Liviu Olteanu, Director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty at the EUD and Secretary General of the International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty (AIDLR) from Switzerland.

December 31, 2018 | Bern, Switzerland. | CD-EUDNews. C.Cozzi, M.Fernandez.

EUDNews published some months ago the remarks of His Excellency dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations special rapporteur on ‘freedom of religion or belief’ on the AIDLR (International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty- Association internationale pour la defense de la liberté religieuse from the Inter-European Region of Seventh-day Adventits (EUD). In that article, we focused on Shaheed’s amazing remarks regarding the importance of the international role played since its beginning by the AIDLR representatives.

Following Shaheed’s comments, we praised the Lord for how He has guided and influenced the AIDLR since 1946 for the benefit of others, by proposing to the United Nations and other regional organizations, a  normative framework for the global defense of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. According to Shaheed: « It is no exaggeration to say that without the vision, efforts, and persistence of Dr Jean Nussbaum, Eleanor Roosevelt, and other members of the AIDLR, the development of the normative framework related to the protection and promotion of this foundational right would not be where it is today.«, We can recognize that allglory and thanks for AIDLR’s results must be directed to our heavenly Father. 

Question: Dr. Olteanu, after listening to the comments and appreciative remarks of the UN expert about the AIDLR, how do you feel looking back upon the AIDLR’s history and its influence, according to Shaheed on the “development of the normative framework for all the world”; the AIDLR’s special background on “bridging the gap between civil society and human rights bodies”; and his recommendation on “deepening the AIDLR’s efforts to combat the root causes of religious intolerance throughout the world”?

Answer: AIDLR history is a true and amazing story, and by grace, I can participate in it, daily. Belonging to this historical and wonderful team, how else can I feel except to  say that I am proud and happy, conscientious of a huge responsibility, and committed to continue in the same direction, promoting new directives continuously, and defending and speaking up for freedom, peace and fundamental freedoms for every human being. 

I would like to pay a special tribute to Dr Jean Nussbaum for his historical vision and diplomacy in action, defending the principle of freedom of religion for all people, everywhere; also Shaheed congratulated “other members of the AIDLR” and one of them, to whom I want to pay tribute is Dr Gianfranco Rossi, former Secretary General, for his special contribution on the UN General Comments No. 22: The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Art.18) and specially, for his unique contribution to article 6 of ‘the 1981 UN Declaration’, in that his untiring negotiations with the UN diplomats working on the draft of that Declaration, resulted in a new clause“ h” within Artcicle 6:“to observe days of rest”. We must also remember the work in favour of religious freedom developed by the former Secretaries General of the AIDLR, Dr. Pierre Lanares, Dr. Maurice Verfaillie and my previous colleague Karel Nowak who unfortunately lost his life in 2011 during his participation at an international conference in favour of religious freedom held in Australia.

(Q). It is so nice remembering the brilliant history of the AIDLR and paying tribute to the colleagues who developed the work of the AIDLR from 1946 till now, and I hope we can talk more in the near future about them and the prestigious presidents of the honorary committee who worked closely with the AIDLR.But now coming back to the interview you had with H.E. Dr. Ahmed Shaheed the UN expert, what did you discuss with him? What did he highlight about Adventists? But firstly, could you explain the framework– historical, political, and normative - you had in mind when you interviewed him about Adventists?

(A) : We spoke together on the priorities of his mandate, his UN reports, the normative frame, geopolitics, the United Nations and its Member States, religious liberty challenges, international risks and threats, trends, extremism, secularism, discrimination, intolerance, persecution, freedom of conscience, and anything that might affect religious believers, including minorities such as the Rohingya from Myanmar, Bahá’ís, Sikhs, Mormons, Evangelicals, Catholics, etc.; we also spoke of the ‘Dialogue Five’ framework proposed by the AIDLR, which we believe all nations must fully engage with. Really, we talked together a lot, on many contemporary and related issues.

When I was a child and into my youth - living in a communist and dictatorial country - I knew from personal experience the meaning of discrimination and even persecution, due to my faith ; I grew up with the desire, one day, to have freedom, to enjoy religious freedom, and with a desire to help others to suffer no longer for freedom of conscience and religion. I studied to know how to promote and defend freedom of religion, not looking only to my beliefs, but defending first of all, the other, i.e. any other person who suffers for his/her conscience. When, a few years ago, I was called to my current responsibilities, as a Christian, I tried to do everything possible to encourage a ‘respect for differences’ and ‘non-discrimination’, for these ideals to be a common currency in our society, and if possible, to stop the pain of so many people still suffering and sometimes paying with their life, their conscience, religion or belief. I know too, how in so many places, around the world, how the Adventists, Jews and others who, only because they are different, know the meaning of intolerance, discrimination and persecution. I try to do everything possible for other people, but also, for my people, not forgetting the Christian and Adventist history, and the future described in the Bible.

Talking with the UN expert on Adventists, I looked from a historical perspective to the religious liberty normative framework. As we know, this year in 2018 we have the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and based on its article 18, has meant the increase of a global perspective on religious freedom and freedom of conscience. Also, this year in 2018, the ADILR recognised the 70th Anniversary of the journal ‘Conscience et Liberté’ - published for first time in 1948 – and published today in French, German and English, and translated, totally or partially, into Portuguese, Romanian or Italian; I want to express my thanks to those colleagues who are translating and publishing this valuable magazine/book in their languages.

(Q). In the context of the UN 70th Anniversarry of UDHR, you spoke of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights as a cornerstone. But can you identify any other important documents we ought to be aware of?

(A). We have to remind ourselves of the most important UN documents and  articles on religious freedom, that all Adventists might be very familiar with; as I have already mentioned, the first relevant one is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of the United Nations from 1948. We can also add the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) - a binding document - with article 18 on religious freedom; the UN Declaration on the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities that provides that States will adopt the necessary measures to ensure that persons belonging to minorities can express their characteristics and develop their culture and tradition; also the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief from 1981, in which article 6 highlights:

The right of freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief shall include, inter alia, the following freedoms: a) to worship or assemble in connexion with a religion or belief, and to establish and maintain places for these purposes; and, as I underlined before about Rossi’ contribution, b) to observe days of rest and to celebrate holidays and ceremonies in accordance with the precepts of one’s religion or belief; and there are many other well-known international or regional documents which talk of the defense of religious freedom. We have to be our own best advocates to prepare our defense against all kinds of discrimination and intolerance based on the freedom of conscience we might one day suffer.

(Q). Do you consider that there is discrimination and intolerance that currently affects or could affect Adventists worldwide, and maybe even in Europe?

(A). I mentioned the issue of discrimination in my question addressed to the Special Rapporteur and I spoke with him regarding the International Seminar organized by the AIDLR on February 27, 2018 at the European Parliament in Brussels, where we debated the “Challenges for Freedom of Religion or Freedom of Conscience in Europe”; there we were alerted to some cases of discrimination that affected religious minorities, in particular: Muslims, Jews, Christians, Adventist believers and students in some European countries such as Luxemburg, Belgium, Germany, France, Austria, Bulgaria, Switzerland, and others.

(Q): While, internationally, we have a good normative framework defending religious freedom, why does discrimination still occur? And why is international legislation and many of the UN declarations and resolutions - with their articles that defend religious freedom - not implemented in the practice of many countries?

(A). We can observe that there are States that have a strong religious background; either Islamic –as in MENA, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia; or there are States with a Christian background – Orthodox or Catholic, as in Bulgaria, Romania, Italy, Spain; there are other countries under the influence of a strong communist and dictatorial background – such as China, North Korea, and Russia; there are countries moved by humanism, secularism, or guided by the influence of ‘laicité’ – such as France, Belgium, and Luxemburg; there are States that consider religion a public disorder or even anenemy,while for others, religion is a political ally; there are States with double standards and measures on religious freedom legislation vs. practical implementation; or States where religion and their followers are regarded as a problemand a riskfor society due to a terrorist attack that may have taken place there within the last few years; in many States the religious issue is a premise for discrimination, intolerance and even persecution of religious people and minorities; there are also countries where the concept of national security is developed and used as a pretext against religious and political opponents; and we can add here the non-State actors having a strong influence and special interest in the manipulation of religious faith and religious sentiments; of course we observe how acts of extremism and populism are developing more and more in countries with democracy and rule of law; and we see even in Europe how many public policies are influenced based on refugees, migrants and religious issues. 

(Q). What about the regional religious freedom framework? Do we have European religious freedom guidelines? 

(A). Yes, we have at the European level a good guidelineon religious freedom, named ‘the EU Guidelines on promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief’ voted in 2013 in Luxemburg. These ‘guidelines’ are revised periodically, including this year, 2018, to include many references against non-discrimination; we hope that the AIDLR could contribute to the EU Guidelines with important proposals on non-discrimination that have been included in the document.

Corrado Cozzi and Mercedes Fernandez



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