THE TANDEM PROJECT
UNITED NATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS,
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
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Issue: Ban on Minarets - Islam, Democracy and Human Rights.
For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society
Excerpt: “In a vote that displayed a widespread anxiety about Islam and undermined the country’s reputation for religious tolerance, the Swiss on Sunday overwhelmingly imposed a national ban on the construction of minarets, in a referendum drawn up by the far right and opposed by the government.”
“The Swiss government said it would respect the vote
and sought to reassure the Muslim population-mostly immigrants from other parts
This article is on the
referendum to ban minarets in
Article 18 Paragraph 3: Freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
1981 UN Declaration Article 6: In accordance with Article 1 of the present Declaration, and subject to the provisions of Article 1, paragraph 3, the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief shall include, inter alia, the following freedom. The right: To worship or assemble in connection with a religion or belief, and to establish and maintain places for these purposes;
By NICK CUMMING-BRUCE and STEVEN ERLANGER
GENEVA — in a vote that displayed a widespread anxiety about Islam and undermined the country’s reputation for religious tolerance, the Swiss on Sunday overwhelmingly imposed a national ban on the construction of minarets, the prayer towers of mosques, in a referendum drawn up by the far right and opposed by the government.
The referendum, which passed with a clear majority of 57.5 percent of the voters and in 22 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, was a victory for the right. The vote against was 42.5 percent. Because the ban gained a majority of votes and passed in a majority of the cantons, it will be added to the Constitution.
The Swiss Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but the rightist Swiss People’s Party, or S.V.P., and a small religious party had proposed inserting a single sentence banning the construction of minarets, leading to the referendum.
The Swiss government said
it would respect the vote and sought to reassure the Muslim population — mostly
immigrants from other parts of
Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, the justice minister, said the result “reflects fears among the population of Islamic fundamentalist tendencies.”
While such concerns “have to be taken seriously,” she said in a statement, “The Federal Council takes the view that a ban on the construction of new minarets is not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies.”
The government must now
draft a supporting law on the ban, a process that could take at least a year
and could put
Of 150 mosques or prayer
“Most painful for us is
not the minaret ban, but the symbol sent by this vote,” said Farhad Afshar, who
runs the Coordination of Islamic Organizations in
The Swiss vote reflected a
growing anxiety about Islam, especially its more fundamentalist forms, in many
Pre-referendum polls had indicated a comfortable, if slowly shrinking, majority against the proposal, after a controversial campaign that played aggressively on the same fears of Muslim immigration and the spread of Islamic values that resonate in other parts of Europe.
Media Tenor International, which monitors television coverage, said that the main Swiss evening news programs tended to report about Islam “primarily in the context of terrorism and international conflict.” Representatives of Islam “were quoted only infrequently,” said the group’s president, Roland Schatz.
Campaign posters depicting a Swiss flag sprouting black, missile-shaped minarets alongside a woman shrouded in a niqab, a head-to-toe veil that shows only the eyes, starkly illustrated the determination of the right to play on deep-rooted fears that Muslim immigration would lead to an erosion of Swiss values.
In a recent televised debate, Ulrich Schlüer, a member of Parliament from the S.V.P., said minarets were a symbol of “the political will to take power” and establish Shariah, or religious law.
He also claimed that
That debate prompted the government to mount a public relations campaign overseas to try to avoid a backlash like the one Denmark faced in Islamic countries after a newspaper published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, and to avoid damage to lucrative commercial and banking ties with wealthy Muslims.
Muslim leaders have tried to keep out of the spotlight and to avoid internationalizing the issue, shunning interviews with most news outlets from Muslim countries, according to Youssef Ibram, an imam at Geneva’s main mosque and Islamic Cultural Foundation.
Still, the campaign was
accompanied by sporadic shows of hostility. Last week, vandals threw stones and
a pot of paint at
In an interview before the referendum, Mr. Ibram said that whatever the outcome of the vote, Muslims would lose out from a campaign that had played on fears of Islam and exposed deep-seated opposition to their community among many Swiss.
Nick Cumming-Bruce reported from Geneva, and Steven Erlanger
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
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.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, at the first Alliance of Civilizations Madrid Forum; “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.”
In 1968 the UN stopped work on an International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Religious Intolerance because of the sensitivity and complexity of reconciling a human rights treaty with dissonant worldviews and voices on religion or belief. Instead, in 1981 the United Nations adopted a non-binding Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief in support of Article 18: http://www.tandemproject.com/program/81_dec.htm
Separation of Religion or Belief and State reflects the far-reaching scope of General Comment 22 on Article 18, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1993, UN Human Rights Committee:
Inclusive and genuine dialogue on human rights and freedom of religion or belief are between people of theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. It calls for open dialogue on: awareness, understanding, acceptance; cooperation, competition, conflict; respectful discourse, discussion of taboos and clarity by persons of diverse beliefs.
Human rights protect freedom of religion or belief; religion or belief does not always protect human rights. In this respect human rights trump religion to protect individuals against all forms of discrimination on grounds of religion or belief by the State, institutions, groups of persons and persons. After forty years suffering, violence and conflict has increased based on belief in many parts of the world. UN options may be to gradually reduce such intolerance and discrimination or call for a new paradigm deferred since 1968.
Is it time for the UN to renew the 1968 draft for a legally-binding International Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief: United Nations History – Freedom of Religion or Belief