Britain must lead war on religious intolerance, say peers

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The world is experiencing a "global crisis" of repression of religious freedom and Britain should lead a "diplomatic war" on opposing religious extremism, peers have urged the government.

The threat of violence was used to compel people to "echo religious norms" in 39% of the worlds countries, up from 18% in 2007, Conservative peer Baroness Berridge told peers.

Speaking in a debate on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which protects freedom of religion, Baroness Berridge said that "accelerated deterioration" of religious freedoms was not confined to one ideology or geographical location.

There was "nothing short of a global crisis" in freedom of religion happening, Conservative peer Baroness Berridge said.

Infringing on religious belief were often "early indications" of other serious problems in countries the Bishop of Derby, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, told peers.

"Freedom of religious belief is a canary in the mine" for other human rights abuses, he told peers.

Baroness Berridge called for the government to make freedom of religion a priority in international development policy, as it is in the foreign office.

Former Conservative MP Lord Cormack said the government should host a summit on the issue and former foreign secretary William Hague should be appointed to travel the globe delivering the message that repression of religious freedom is not acceptable.

"We have got to address what has happened. We have got to declare, unequivocally, war on extremism wherever it is to be found, and by doing the sort of things I proposed, this government could play a significant part in doing precisely that" he said.

After a recent report found evidence of a "co-ordinated" effort to introduce an "Islamic ethos" into several Birmingham schools Baroness Beriddge called for a review of Article 18 in the UK in order to put "our own house in order."

Foreign office minister Lord Wallace of Saltaire told peers that the government was "actively working on" combating religious intolerance "at home and throughout the world."

The government was against creating a special envoy for religious freedom as when these have been created in the past "large number of countries then refuse to accept visit from" them.

Instead all Foreign Office Minsters were now ambassadors for religious freedom, Lord Wallace said.

Baroness Warsi had introduced a new measure making it a part of all briefs in the Foreign Office, he said.

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