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Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of FCDO Human Rights UK in Holy See

11th December 2012

Combating intolerance and promoting freedom of religion or belief

Building bridges of dialogue: students and staff of the Cambridge Muslim College at the British Embassy to the Holy See during a visit earlier this year

The British Foreign Office and the Canadian High Commission in London collaborated last week in a conference in London, under the aegis of Wilton Park, on the question of promoting freedom of religion or belief. Participants came together from across the world, and from a range of institutions – different faiths, different governments, and different civil society groups – to debate the issue. The conference was structured around UN Human Rights Resolution 16/18 which was agreed at the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year, and which represents a new and consensual way of tackling this critical and complex subject at international level. The Holy See was represented by the Apostolic Nuncio in London.

I was struck by the emphasis on practical action. Yes, there was plenty of discussion about the text. But there was a strong sense around the table that a great deal more needed to be done – with religious and political leaders taking clear responsibility – beyond what was simply said and written. One participant reminded the conference in stark terms that, if anything, the overall state of freedom of religion in the world is sliding backwards. Dialogue has to take place in tandem with real activity on the ground.

We learned about a number of real examples. The creation of a human rights manual for Churches, to help them and their communities understand better their own rights and be more convincing advocates. The drawing up of guidelines for the media on responsible and intelligent use of language when addressing religious issues (for example, to avoid the loose and meaningless but often provocative use of labels such as “moderate” or extremist”). The establishment of rapid response funds by governments to help victims of religious persecution. And better training of diplomats, politicians, government servants and religious leaders.

We agreed that it was in the strategic international interest to work for religious freedom for everyone, every day, in every part of the world. We are a very long way from that. But, without it, intolerance, misunderstandings and tension around faith will remain a constant presence, destabilising and dangerous. The British Government will continue to make the issue a priority.

About Nigel Baker

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as…

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Havana, Cuba (2003-6) and then as British Ambassador in La Paz, Bolivia (2007-11). In July 2016, Nigel finished his posting, and is currently back in London.

As the first British Ambassador to the Holy See ever to have a blog, Nigel provided a regular window on what the Embassy and the Ambassador does. The blogs covered a wide range of issues, from Royal and Ministerial visits to Diplomacy and Faith, freedom of religion, human trafficking and climate change.

More on Nigel’s career

Nigel was based in London between 1998 and 2003. He spent two years on European Union issues (for the UK 1998 EU Presidency and on European Security and Defence questions), before crossing St James’s Park to work for three years as The Assistant Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. At St James’s Palace, Nigel worked on international issues, including the management of The Prince of Wales’s overseas visits and tours, on the Commonwealth, interfaith issues, the arts and international development.

Nigel spent much of the early part of his FCO career in Central Europe, after an initial stint as Desk Officer for the Maghreb countries in the Near East and North Africa department (1990-91). Between 1992 and 1996, Nigel served in the British embassies in Prague and Bratislava, the latter being created in 1993 after the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into the separate Czech and Slovak Republics.

Nigel joined the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) in September 1989. Between 1996 and 1998 he took a two year academic sabbatical to research and write about themes in 18th century European history, being based in Verona but also researching in Cambridge, Paris and Naples. The research followed from Nigel’s time as a student at Cambridge (1985-88) where he read history and was awarded a First Class Honours degree, followed by his MA in 1992.

Before joining the Foreign Office, Nigel worked briefly for the Conservative Research Department in London at the time of the 1989 European election campaign.

Nigel married Alexandra (Sasha) in 1997. They have one son, Benjamin, born in Bolivia in September 2008.

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