THE TANDEM PROJECT
UNITED NATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS,
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH – IN MANY PARTS OF THE WORLD,
THE RIGHT TO CHANGE ONE’S BELIEFS IS UNDER THREAT
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Issue: Conversion & Proselytism, major issues facing the United Nations Human Rights Council
For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society
Review: These excerpts are from an article in The Economist
Briefing Section of the magazine: The Moment of Truth – In
many parts of the world, the right to change one’s beliefs is under threat, July
Link to article in The Economist Briefing Section,
Religious Conversions: The Moment of Truth, July
Excerpts: Excerpts are presented under the Eight Articles of the 1981 U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. An Issue Statement follows the excerpts.
1. 1 Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have a religion or whatever belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practices and teaching.
1. 2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice.
The Moment of Truth – In many parts of the world,
the right to change one’s beliefs is under threat,
The Economist: July 28 to
Sometimes conversion is gradual, but quite commonly things come to a head in a single instant, which can be triggered by a text, an image a ceremony or some private realization. A religious person would call such a moment summons from God; a psychologist might speak of an instant when the walls between the conscious and unconscious break down, perhaps because an external stimulus – words, a picture, a rite – connects with something very deep inside. For people of an artistic bent, the catalyst is often a religious image which serves as a window into a new reality. One recurring theme in conversion stories is that cultural forms which are, on the face of it, foreign to the convert somehow feel familiar, like a homecoming. That, the convert feels, “is what I have always believed without being fully aware of it.”
In the West it is generally taken for granted that people have a perfect, indeed scared, right to follow their own religious path, and indeed to invite – though never compel – other people to join them. The liberal understanding of religion lays great emphasis on the right to change belief. Earlier this year, a poll found that one in four Americans moves on from the faith of their upbringing.
The biggest reason why conversion is becoming a hot international topic is the Muslim belief that leaving Islam is at best a grave sin, at worst a crime that merits execution (see attached Word Document, “In Death’s Shadow”). Another factor in a growing global controversy is the belief in some Christian circles that Christianity must retain the right to seek and receive converts, even in parts of the world where this may be viewed as a form of cultural or spiritual aggression.
The idea that religion constitutes a community (where loss or gain of even one member is a matter of deep, legitimate concern to all other members) is as old as religion itself. Christianity teaches that the recovery of a “lost sheep” cause rejoicing in heaven; for a Muslim, there is no human category more important than the umma, the worldwide community of believers.
But in most human societies the reasons why
conversion causes controversy have little to do with religious dogma, and much
to do with power structures (within the family or the state) and politics.
Conversion will never be seen as a purely individual matter when one
religiously-defined community is at war or armed standoff with another. During
And in many ways religious freedom is receding,
not advancing, in
The contest between theocratic politics and a
nationally secular state looks even more unequal in another ex-British land,
A more telling sign of the times was the verdict in the case of Lina Joy, a Malay convert from Islam to Christianity who asked a federal court to register the change on her ID card. By two to one the judges rejected her bid, arguing that one “cannot, at one’s whims or fancies, renounce or embrace a religion.” It is too bad, then, for any Malaysians who have a moment of truth on the subway, especially if the faith to which they are called happens not to be Islam.
and the right to change one’s religion or belief is brought home in personal
stories such as this one in the biography, “An American in Ghandhi’s
“Social norms of the hill community presented insurmountable problems to Hindu converts. Earlier conversions in the area had been only from the poor low-cast kolis or of destitute or orphaned high-caste children. Since the kolis were considered ‘untouchables’ their conversion did not much affect their relationship with the rest of the community- they were outcastes and remained so even after conversion. But the conversion of high-caste Hindu boys of influential families was a sensitive issue. High-caste Hindus made no concession for those who dared to violate the sanctity of their religion. A violation of the rules meant the entire family would be ostracized.”
The threat to the right to change one’s religion or
belief throughout the world was reflected in the sixth session of the U.N.
Human Rights Council. The United Nations Human Rights Council voted 29 in
favor, 0 against and 18 abstentions on
The abstentions were
based on the objections from
Human Rights Council Resolution 6/37: Elimination of all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion or belief:
9. Urges States:
(a) To ensure that their constitutional and legislative systems provide adequate and effective guarantees of freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief to all without distinction, inter alia, by provision of effective remedies in cases where the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, or the right to practice freely one’s religion, including the right to change one’s religion or belief is violated:
Adopted by a recorded vote of 29 to none with 18 abstentions:
Report on the vote by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR):
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) Human Rights Monitor reported:
Human Rights Council resolution extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur
on Freedom of Religion or Belief by three years (A/HRC/6/L.15/Rev/1) was the
only resolution not passed by consensus. An attempt was made for consensus by
leaving out 24 out of the original 40 paragraphs. According to the
International Service for Human Rights report, “
these disagreements, the OIC called for a vote, and said it would abstain. A
large number of OIC members of the Council then took the floor to align with
the statement by
Direct Link to The Resolution (A/HRC/RES/6/37):
The Tandem Project: a non-governmental organization founded in 1986 to build understanding, tolerance and respect for diversity, and to prevent discrimination in matters relating to freedom of religion or belief. The Tandem Project, a non-profit NGO, has sponsored multiple conferences, curricula, reference materials and programs on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion - and 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
The Tandem Project initiative is the result of a co-founder representing the World Federation of United Nations Associations at the United Nations Geneva Seminar, Encouragement of Understanding, Tolerance and Respect in Matters Relating to Freedom of Religion or Belief, called by the UN Secretariat in 1984 on ways to implement the 1981 UN Declaration. In 1986, The Tandem Project organized the first NGO International Conference on the 1981 UN Declaration.
The Tandem Project Executive Director is: Michael M. Roan, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Tandem Project is a UN NGO in Special Consultative Status with the
Economic and Social Council of the United Nations
Goal: To eliminate all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, at the Alliance of Civilizations Madrid Forum said; “never in our lifetime has there been a more desperate need for constructive and committed dialogue, among individuals, among communities, among cultures, among and between nations.” Another writer in different setting said; “the warning signs are clear, unless we establish genuine dialogue within and among all kinds of belief, ranging from religious fundamentalism to secular dogmatism, the conflicts of the future will probably be even more deadly.”
Challenge: to reconcile international human rights standards on freedom of religion or belief with the truth claims of religious and non-religious beliefs.
Did God create us or did we create God? This question calls for inclusive and genuine dialogue, respectful and thoughtful responses, discussion of taboos and clarity by persons of diverse beliefs. Inclusive and genuine is dialogue between people of theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. These UN categories embodied in international law promote tolerance and prevent discrimination based on religion or belief.
Inclusive and genuine dialogue is essential as a first step in recognition of the inherent dignity, equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, and a foundation for freedom, justice and peace in the world. Leaders of religious and non-religious beliefs sanction the truth claims of their own traditions. They are the key to raising awareness and acceptance of the value of holding truth claims in tandem with human rights standards on freedom of religion or belief.
To build understanding and support for Article 18, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights –Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion - and the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. Encourage the United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media and Civil Society to use International Human Rights Standards on Freedom of Religion or Belief as essential for long-term solutions to conflicts in all matters relating to religion or belief.
1. Use International Human Rights Standards on Freedom of Religion or Belief as a platform for genuine dialogue on the core principles and values within and among nations, all religions and other beliefs.
2. Adapt these human rights standards to early childhood education, teaching children, from the very beginning, that their own religion is one out of many and that it is a personal choice for everyone to adhere to the religion or belief by which he or she feels most inspired, or to adhere to no religion or belief at all.1
History: In 1968 the United Nations deferred work on an International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Religious Intolerance, because of its apparent complexity and sensitivity. In the twenty-first century, a dramatic increase of intolerance and discrimination on grounds of religion or belief is motivating a worldwide search to find solutions to these problems. This is a challenge calling for enhanced dialogue by States and others; including consideration of an International Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief for protection of and accountability by all religions or beliefs. The tensions in today’s world inspire a question such as:
Should the United Nations adopt an International Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief?
Response: Is it the appropriate moment to reinitiate
the drafting of a legally binding international convention on freedom of
religion or belief? Law making of this nature requires a minimum consensus and
an environment that appeals to reason rather than emotions. At the same time we
are on a learning curve as the various dimensions of the Declaration are being
explored. Many academics have produced voluminous books on these questions but
more ground has to be prepared before setting up of a UN working group on
drafting a convention. In my opinion, we should not try to rush the elaboration
of a Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief, especially not in times of
high tensions and unpreparedness. - UN Special Rapporteur on
Freedom of Religion or Belief,
Option: After forty years this may be the time, however complex and sensitive, for the United Nations Human Rights Council to appoint an Open-ended Working Group to draft a United Nations Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief. The mandate for an Open-ended Working Group ought to assure nothing in a draft Convention will be construed as restricting or derogating from any right defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Human Rights, and the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
Separation of Religion or Belief and State
Concept: Separation of Religion or Belief and State - SOROBAS. The First Preamble to the 1948 United Nations
Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads; “Whereas
recognition of the inherent
dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human
family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. This concept
suggests States recalling their history, culture and constitution adopt fair
and equal human rights protection for all religions or beliefs as described in
General Comment 22 on Article 18, International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights, UN Human Rights Committee,
Article 18: protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The terms belief and religion are to be broadly construed. Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with international characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions. The Committee therefore views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reasons, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility by a predominant religious community.
Article 18: permits restrictions to manifest a religion or belief only if such limitations are prescribed by law and necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
Dialogue: International Human Rights Standards on Freedom or Religion or Belief are international law and universal codes of conduct for peaceful cooperation, respectful competition and resolution of conflicts. The standards are a platform for genuine dialogue on core principles and values within and among nations, all religions and other beliefs.
1981 U.N. Declaration on Freedom of Religion or Belief
5.2: Every child shall enjoy the right to have access to education in the matter of religion or belief in accordance with the wishes of his parents, and shall not be compelled to receive teaching on religion or belief against the wishes of his parents, the best interests of the child being the guiding principle.” With International Human Rights safeguards, early childhood education is the best time to begin to build tolerance, understanding and respect for freedom of religion or belief.
5.3: The child shall be protected from any form of discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. He shall be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, and friendship among peoples, peace and universal brotherhood, respect for the freedom of religion or belief of others and in full consciousness that his energy and talents should be devoted to the service of his fellow men.