In 2016 the European Union announced the creation of the position of the Special Envoy for the Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief outside the EU.
Jan Figel was appointed the first special envoy for this role. During his time in office, he gave substantial help to secure the release of some persecuted persons, like Czech missionary Petr Jašek and his two collaborators in Sudan, as well as the Sudanese human rights defender Ibrahim Mudawi Adam.
The special envoy's office worked behind the scenes to bring Asia Bibi out of Pakistan. Bibi is the Pakistani Christian woman who was sentenced to death for blasphemy. Acquitted after eight years of imprisonment, her life was still in danger and she was forced to leave her home country.
Figel told CNA that "religious freedom and religious, social responsibility are much more on the agenda now than any time before and religious freedom is repeatedly integrated into the European Development Days."
He has also supported the work of the European Academy of Religion, established in December 2016 in Bologna.
Among signs of progress, Figel includes the "Declaration on Human Dignity for Everyone Everywhere". For him, this is a very timely contribution of scholars and international experts to promote "the universality of human rights stemming from the dignity of each person" as the foundational principle, defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Robert Clarke, director of European Advocacy for ADF International, was critical of the EU's approach and its monitoring of its own work on freedom of religion and belief.
"Despite the EU's commitment to evaluating progress in implementing the Guidelines three years after the adoption, we see that six years have passed and no such report has been released," Clarke told CNA.
He called on the EU to act "transparently and with integrity" in its commitments to religious freedom. The EU should also strengthen the position of its special envoy, he said.
A January 2019 report of the European Parliament noted that there has been no public report about the implementation of the EU Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief. It urged that such evaluation should be made public "without delay," and with required progress reports.
ADF International has cited a 2018 report from a European Parliament Intergroup on religion and belief which concluded that the EU "could do much more to protect religious freedom."
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Andrea Gagliarducci is an Italian journalist for Catholic News Agency and Vatican analyst for ACI Stampa. He is a contributor to the National Catholic Register.