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Seventh-day Adventist United Nations Liaison, Dr. Nelu Burcea (left) met with newly appointed UN Special Rapporteur for freedom of religion or belief, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed (right) to share the Adventist Church’s vision for defending freedom of religion. Photo credit: United Nations

'Religious Freedom Is a High Priority for Church,' Adventist Representative Tells UN Envoy

In a meeting with the United Nations’ new top envoy for religious freedom, the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s UN liaison said Adventists are committed to promoting and defending freedom of worship for all people, regardless of their faith tradition.

Dr. Nelu Burcea, an associate director of the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department of the world church, met last month in New York City with Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, who is the UN’s new Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. Dr. Shaheed is a veteran politician and diplomat from the Indian Ocean island nation of Maldives, and previously served as the UN’s top human rights observer for the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“I have followed Dr. Shaheed’s work as Special Rapporteur on human rights for Iran and I’ve been struck by his passionate commitment to defending the defenseless, and speaking out for those who have no voice,” said Dr. Burcea. “As I talked with him last month, this impression was certainly confirmed. I welcome the opportunity to work with Dr. Shaheed in promoting the first freedom—the freedom to believe and worship according to one’s own conscience.”

In their meeting, Burcea introduced Shaheed to the global work of the Adventist Church, and spoke of its efforts, spanning some 150 years, to defend and expand religious liberty for all people of faith. The two also discussed current challenges to religious freedom in different parts of the world.

Shaheed’s appointment follows the retirement of Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, who served as the UN’s Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief since August 2010.

“As he begins his work, Dr. Shaheed will build on a foundation that has been strengthened by the dedicated work of Professor Bielefeldt,” said Dr. Ganoune Diop, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the world church. Dr. Diop, who formerly served as the church’s UN Liaison, has worked closely with Bielefeldt through the years. He called him an “eloquent, effective and compassionate advocate for religious freedom—someone who doesn’t hesitate to speak against the powerful on behalf of religious minorities, or those struggling under repressive laws or in hostile environments. We wish Dr. Shaheed well as he continues to expand Professor Bielefeldt’s legacy.”

As the church’s UN Liaison, Burcea regularly travels to the United Nations in New York and Geneva to attend meetings, including sessions of the UN’s Human Rights Council, which take place at least three times each year. His task is to introduce the Adventist Church within the international arena, and to build good relations with those who share the church’s goals in fields such as human rights and humanitarian care.

BETTINA KRAUSE | Communication Director
International Religious Liberty Association
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