by Giancarlo Anello*
Contemporary international law is the law in force today, which began in the aftermath of the Second World War, most notably with the adoption of the UN Charter as the outcome of the S. Francisco Conference on June, 26th 1945. In the Charter, religion is mentioned as a reason of possible discrimination – along with some other elements, like race, sex, language – given that international community is called to assist the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms (articles 13, 55, and 76). Since that time international law has changed, after some events like the spread and collapse of communism, the development of International Organizations, decolonization and the rise of the rights of peoples to self-determination, the international recognition of human rights, the late globalization. Accordingly, religion became the ground of a specific position within the human rights’ discourse. The grounding value of religion has been changing from time to time until the latest interpretation that considers religious freedom as a “special” right. The internationally distinguished Italian scholar Silvio Ferrari has explained the special nature of religious freedom asserting its “triadic” nature: while freedom of conscience or expression are grounded on a bilateral relationship, the relationship between the individual and the State, the right to freedom of religion or belief has a more complex structure as it lies at the triangulation point where the individual, the faith community and the State converge. The relationships between individual, faith community and political power have been different depending on the historical periods. Sometimes the faith community has prevailed and the political power has regulated freedom of religion or belief according to the tenets of a religion, normally the majority religion in the country. Sometimes the political authority has prevailed and has dictated its own discipline of freedom of religion or belief to which the faith communities have had to adapt. Rarely, however, have individuals been able to assert freedom of religion or belief as their own right, with an autonomous foundation independent from the law of the State or faith community. For this reason, it is possible to count more and more provisions of recent international legislations promoting the idea of a major engagement of religious actors into international relations and diplomacy.
The action of religious leaders can integrate the area of diplomacy as a traditional area of international law. Recent documents coming from international organizations show the direction for integrating religious engagement into diplomacy. But in terms of strengthening multilateral diplomacy a more comprehensive methodology is required. Some academics are conducting specific researches in this direction. Mention should be made to Mandaville and Silvestri who, after surveying a number of the challenges to integrating religious engagement into statecraft – from a bias of secularism in diplomacy, to religious freedom protections, to institutional constraints – describe a new approach that includes:
- moving away from a model whereby religion is viewed as being relevant only to certain specialized functions such as the advancement of international religious freedom;
- departing from approaches to engagement with religious leaders and faith-based organizations that view those entities as having a limited role around a very limited set of policy issues (e.g. peacemaking, development, humanitarian disasters);
- getting beyond the all-too common practice of using “religion” as a shorthand or euphemism for Islam;
- recognizing the central importance of religion as a societal force around the world;
- making the case that awareness of and engagement with religious actors can play a constructive role in advancing even policy issues that, on the face of it, seemingly have little to do with religion, faith, or spiritual matters;
- and, lastly, while advocating for the importance of religion as a force in world affairs, also avoiding over-stating the importance of religion.
Latter point introduces more specific questions: what are the type of religious actors to engage? Isn’t too risky to open the door of diplomacy to radical group and fundamentalists? Pope Francis addresses them in a section of the mentioned encyclical letter “Fratelli tutti”. The section is dedicated to “social dialogue for a new culture” (FT, Chapters 199 ff.). The Pope explains that such a dialogue must have specific characteristics and methodology, be enriched and illumined by “clear thinking, rational arguments, a variety of perspectives and the contribution of different fields of knowledge and points of view”. But it must also make space for the conviction that “it is possible to arrive at certain fundamental truths always to be upheld”. “Acknowledging the existence of certain enduring values, however demanding it may be to discern them”, he adds, “makes for a robust and solid social ethics” (FT, Chapter 213).
Thus, it is obvious that irreconcilably violent extremists cannot be involved in inter-religious or intra-religious diplomacy but the approach that distinguish only between good and bad religious leaders overlooks the importance of the actors that are in the middle. Many communities and leaders can be interested in entering the dialogue without compulsion, out of sectarian interests or a theological position, but just for improving the conditions of the daily life of their communities. Such players are exactly the actors to engage in the diplomatic processes.
*Professor of “Religious Diplomacy” at the University of Parma
 A model is the “Report of United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief”, United Nations General Assembly, UN Doc A/HRC/28/66, 29 December 2014, https://undocs.org/A/HRC/28/66, p. 22.
 R. Scott Appleby, Comprehending religion in Global affairs, in Petito, Daou, and Driessen, supra, p. 74.
• Giancarlo Anello, Believers United. Religions in Dialogue Through the Law, Wolters Kruwer, in press (2022).
• Silvio Ferrari, Freedom of religion or Belied in International Law, in Andrea Benzo (ed.), From Freedom of Worship to Freedom of Religion or Belief. Fostering the Partnership between States, the International Community and Religious Institutions, Proceedings of the Conference Italian Cultural Institute – Cairo, 18 February 2020, Embassy of Italy, Garden City-Cairo, 2020, p. 109-110.
• Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter, Fratelli Tutti, Citta del Vaticano, 3 October 2020, https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20201003_enciclica-fratelli-tutti.html
• Douglas Johnston and Cynthia Sampson (eds.), Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, 1994, p. 20 ff.
• Peter Mandaville and Sara Silvestri, Integrating religious engagement into diplomacy: challenges and opportunities, Issues in Governance Studies, 67, 2015, pp. 1-13.
• Philip Mc Donagh and others, On the Significance of Religion for Global Diplomacy, Routledge, 2021, p. 114 https://library.oapen.org/handle/20.500.12657/42730