Council holds interactive dialogue with Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief
Friday, 19 March 2010 14:56


On 11 March, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ms Asma Jahangir, presented her annual report to the Human Rights Council (the Council). The report focused on ‘early warning signs’ of discrimination and violence, including by State actors (lack of adequate legislation ensuring freedom of religion or belief, lack of accountability, existence of patterns of religious discrimination in State practices and policies), non-State actors (attacks based on religious affiliation, degree and persistence of religious tensions, spreading of messages of religious hatred), and external factors (upcoming elections, long-persisting tensions over places of worship, natural disasters). Ms Jahangir referred specifically to recent outbursts of religious violence in Nigeria as an illustration of the importance of taking heed of early warning signs. During the interactive dialogue that followed, Nigeria attributed the recent violence to poverty, illiteracy, and the economy and not ‘religion itself’. As this report marked the last of her mandate, Ms Jahangir thanked the various State delegations that had noted their appreciation for her work. However she also took the opportunity to name all twenty States who have not yet responded to her requests for visits, including the Russian Federation, Malaysia, Pakistan, China, Vietnam, Bulgaria, and Egypt.


The Special Rapporteur also presented mission reports on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Macedonia), Serbia, and Laos. Macedonia described the Special Rapporteur’s report as ‘largely balanced’, both in noting progress made, and in the identification of issues that required additional attention. Serbia noted its appreciation of Ms Jahangir’s work and report, but claimed that ‘factual and interpretive misunderstandings’ were possible as a result of the proclamation of independence by Kosovo, described the human rights situation in Kosovo as ‘dismal’, and noted several instances of violence against churches and monasteries in the area. Laos acknowledged some incidents from the past, and assured the Special Rapporteur that such incidents will not be tolerated in the future.



Over the course of the interactive dialogue, a large number of States noted the report’s focus on early warning signs. Some explicitly welcomed Ms Jahangir’s work on early warning signs concurring with her views that the Council, the treaty body system, and other special mandate holders all have a role to play as an early warning system Canada, Italy, Norway, Netherlands, Chile. Despite this general agreement, they did not elaborate on how these mechanisms could seize the Council or take action themselves. Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC), questioned whether a ban on the construction of minarets, or the prohibition of wearing religious clothing in public, could be considered as early warning signs. Other States drew attention to the banning of religious structures in general.Bangladesh, Syria, Egypt Ms Jahangir noted that she had issued a press release on the issue of the Swiss minaret ban in November of 2009, expressing her deep concern over the vote and the possible negative consequences to the Muslim community in Switzerland.


A large number of States drew attention to the plight of religious minorities, including the situation of the Baha’i in IranEU, Canada, Brazil, UK, Belgium Christians and Jews in Iran,UK Christians in Iraq,Belgium, Italy Christians in Nigeria,Italy and unequal access to education for all religious minorities.Austria Concern was also expressed over restrictions on people who either do not have a religion, or wish to change their religion.Poland, France, Netherlands In her response, Ms Jahangir referred States to her report, which describes ways to address the issue of religious minorities. On the issue of converts, she noted that it is a serious problem, even in States where there is no law against conversion. Ms Jahangir stated that if someone has a leaning toward a certain religion, but is stopped from manifesting that feeling, it is a basic denial of rights.


Other issues raised by States included the role of education, including human rights education and ‘inter-faith dialogue’, in promoting religious tolerance,Switzerland, Austria, France, Republic of Korea children being indoctrinated with religious intolerance,Republic of Korea use of the internet to disseminate incitement to religious violence,Republic of Korea and women being a constant target of religious intolerance.Sweden, Denmark, Republic of Korea The Special Rapporteur responded that women’s respectability is sometimes linked to the observation of religious traditions, noting that governments often hesitate to address ‘culturally sensitive’ issues, and this most often affects vulnerable groups, including women.



Syria took the opportunity to raise the issue of ‘defamation of religion’, claiming that incitement of religious hatred through the ‘guise of freedom of expression’ has an effect on religious minorities. Similarly, Egypt in a provocative question to the Special Rapporteur asked how freedom of religion could be protected if ‘secularism is stretched to the limit’ and asked if it were not time to study violence against the right to freedom of religion in the name of secularism. Ms Jahangir made a point of responding to Egypt’s statement directly, noting that once again they will agree to disagree.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 August 2010 17:12
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