THE TANDEM PROJECT
UNITED NATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS,
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
Separation of Religion or Belief & State
INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION ON
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
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Issue: UN discussion with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief
For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society
Article 18: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
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.
UN press report: UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief:
Jahangir: She did not believe the international community was ready to have a convention on religious freedom. There had to be a better understanding and more consensus on the question, which was still highly contentious. At some point, the distinction must be made between racial and religious discrimination. At the moment, in order to give relief to victims, all States had agreed to “let it pass.”
Instead, she reiterated the need for education, as well as heightened public awareness. Education was also important in teaching tolerance to children, particularly by orchestrating meetings between children of various faiths and communities, which had shown some success.”
The professional wisdom and legal judgment of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief are exemplary. However, The Tandem Project respectfully differs with her on this issue. Now is the time for the UN to appoint an open-ended Working Group to draft an International Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief. What will this take for the UN to consider a Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief? “It is always a mix of idealism and realpolitik that can change the world” according to the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. Given the challenges the United Nations experiences in trying to build consensus for international human rights on freedom of religion or belief it may take more than a mix of idealism and realpolitik, it will take the will to apply these standards at national and local levels.
In 2010 it will be fifty years since the United Nations in 1960 commissioned Arcot Krishnaswami to draft a Study of Discrimination in the Matter of Religious Rights and Practices which became the basic foundation upon which an International Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief was to be founded. The Convention was to be equal in status to the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) being considered at that time.
In 1968 the United Nations deferred work on an International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Religious Intolerance because of its complexity and sensitivity. In forty years intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief has increased and not decreased.
There has been progress in interfaith dialogue since 1968. However, waiting for consensus on the contentious issues on human rights and freedom of religion or belief may take another forty years. The question is whether the family of nations is running out of time to isolate and reduce the most destabilizing cases of intolerance and discrimination based in part on religion or belief, given current wars and potential for misuse of technology in advanced weapons of mass destruction.
Everyone agrees in theory education is the key to tolerance and understanding between people of diverse religions or beliefs. In 2006 the Netherlands Ambassador-at-large for Human Rights speaking on education curricula at the 25 year Commemoration of the 1981 UN Declaration on Freedom of Religion or Belief said we must “teach children, from the very beginning, that their own religion is one out of many and 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.” This is true, but rarely done and almost never beginning with early childhood education.
A paradigm breakthrough and heightened public awareness will be served if the United Nations were to create an open-ended Working Group to draft a non-derogating International Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Such a process in developing a draft would serve as an annual focal point in one place for diverse and contentious issues in all matters of freedom of religion or belief before the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly. The Special Procedures appointment of a UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief is effective, but one independent expert is simply not enough to cover the diversity and depth of this subject on an annual basis.
To begin work on a Convention deferred since 1968 will raise human rights on freedom of religion or belief to the status originally intended by the United Nations, a foundational treaty for international law and a worldwide platform for cross-sector integrated dialogue and education at international, national and local levels. At the moment, it is too important for all States to “let it pass.”
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.”
Genuine dialogue on human rights and freedom of religion or belief calls for respectful discourse, discussion of taboos and clarity by persons of diverse beliefs. Inclusive dialogue includes people of theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The warning signs are clear, unless there is genuine dialogue ranging from religious fundamentalism to secular dogmatism; conflicts in the future will probably be even more deadly.
In 1968 the UN deferred work on an International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Religious Intolerance because of its complexity and sensitivity. In forty years violence, suffering and discrimination based on religion or belief has dramatically increased. It is time for a UN Working Group to draft what they deferred in 1968, a comprehensive core international human rights treaty- a United Nations Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief: United Nations History – Freedom of Religion or Belief
The challenge to religions or beliefs at all levels is awareness, understanding and acceptance of international human rights standards on freedom of religion or belief. Leaders, teachers and followers of all religions or beliefs, with governments, are keys to test the viability of inclusive and genuine dialogue in response to the UN Secretary General’s urgent call for constructive and committed dialogue.
The Tandem Project title, Separation of Religion or Belief and State (SOROBAS), reflects the far-reaching scope of UN General Comment 22 on Article 18, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Human Rights Committee (CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.4). The General Comment on Article 18 is a guide to international human rights law for peaceful cooperation, respectful competition and resolution of conflicts:
Surely one of the best hopes for humankind is to embrace a culture in which religions and other beliefs accept one another, in which wars and violence are not tolerated in the name of an exclusive right to truth, in which children are raised to solve conflicts with mediation, compassion and understanding.
The Tandem Project is a non-governmental organization (NGO) 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 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 is a UN NGO in Special Consultative Status with the
Economic and Social Council of the United Nations