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Now is the Time

 

 
 

Issue: Resolving the Impasse – Working Group for a Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief


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 Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the elaboration of complementary standards at the 13th session of the UN Human Rights Council includes a summary of position papers and proposals by UN Member States in attendance at the 2nd Session of the Ad Hoc Committee on Complementary Standards, discussion of the way forward and adoption of the report. (attached).

The Ad Hoc Committee on Complimentary Standards is a follow-up to the Durban Review Conference and the Durban Declaration Program of Action (DDPA), by the UN Human Rights Council and Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights.  This report is under Item 9 on the agenda this year under Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Forms of Intolerance (which includes religion).

THE TANDEM PROJECT

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UNITED NATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS,
 FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF

Separation of Religion or Belief and State

REPORT OF THE AD HOC COMMITTEE ON THE ELABORATION
OF COMPLIMENTARY STANDARDS (A/HRC/13/58) ATTACHED.

Issue:  Resolving the Impasse – a Working Group for a Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society

ReviewReport of the Ad Hoc Committee on the elaboration of complementary standards at its second session. United States of America draft Resolution to the Ad Hoc Committee.

From 1960-68 the United Nations annually met as a sub-committee to draft an International Convention on Religious Intolerance before deferring work because of its sensitivity and complexity. Since 2007, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva and General Assembly in New York has failed to reach consensus on the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, defamation of religion, restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom to leave a religion or belief.

The Ad Hoc Committee on the elaboration of complementary standards is an extension of these tensions and disagreements over the core principles of human rights and freedom of religion or belief.

This lack of consensus over principles of international human rights law such as universality vs. relativity based on culture and tradition, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of religion or belief, including the right of choice to leave a religion is too deep to be resolved or compromised as suggested by the Ad Hoc Committee by an optional protocol or complimentary standards or a new Convention seconded to CERD and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  There are many positive proposals to be considered by the Ad Hoc Committee for complimentary standards to eliminate racial and religious discrimination in tandem as a follow-up to the Durban Review Conference, but avoiding underlying reasons why the UN deferred work in 1968 on a stand-alone core human rights treaty on religious discrimination, because of its sensitivity and complexity, should receive its own consideration separate from issues of racial discrimination.

Freedom of Religion or Belief and Freedom of Opinion and Expression is an inviolable principle of democracy. International human rights norms and standards are universal for the protection of individuals and should not be compromised by complimentary provisions for organizations.  Culture and tradition should be acknowledged, honored and recognized within universality. Religion or belief, for anyone who professes either, is one of the fundamental elements of life and should be fully respected and guaranteed. The reasons when and why these freedoms can be limited including limits based on hate crimes are already in Articles 18, 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


RESOLVING THE IMPASSE

To resolve this impasse the United Nations Human Rights Council should consider an Open-ended Working Group to draft a new International Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief that would elevate the dialogue to a higher level on an annual basis.  This would raise rather than lower and split the concerns over religion or belief. This impasse will not be fully resolved until the United Nations recognizes the need to overcome the deep sensitivity and complexity of these issues and returns to its work deferred since 1968.

Such a Working Group for an International Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief would not supplement the Convention to Eliminate Racial Discrimination (CERD) or be a secondary level human rights instrument or protocol. The Working Group for a Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief (COFRB), would be a core international human rights treaty comparable in strength to CERD, that would elevate the impasse over defamation of religions and the right to leave a religion or belief in a high level annual platform for dialogue on consensus to complete work started over 40 years earlier.

There are promising proposals in the Ad Hoc report that deserve recognition, especially in human rights education.  The United States of America in a Draft Resolution before the UN Human Rights Council requests the Ad Hoc Committee, as an immediate positive step forward and without prejudice to its mandate, to focus on determining which of those proposals enjoy the consensus necessary for their successful implementation, with a view to their adoption by the Council at its sixteenth session (Attachment).

It has been fifty years since the 1960 seminal study on human rights and freedom of religion or belief was written by Arcot Krishnaswami, Study of Discrimination in the Matter of Religious Rights and Practices. The study was meant to prepare for a core international human rights treaty, a convention on the elimination of all forms of religious intolerance, and was to be an equal companion treaty to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

The Ad Hoc report does not mention this 50 year history of two proposed equal conventions, one on race and one on religion: United Nations History – Freedom of Religion or Belief.

There was an eight year window open from 1960-68 for creating two international human rights core Conventions until work was deferred on a Religious Convention because of its sensitivity and complexity. The Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) was passed in 1969 as a rejection of the racist colonial past of new African nations. Since then, there have been repeated attempts to fuse religion in a sub-category under race, the latest being an “ad hoc committee” created by the UN Human Rights Council. 

In 1986 The Tandem Project international conference, Tolerance for Diversity of Religion or Belief, in lieu of an International Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief, drafted twenty-seven Community Strategies, action proposals by organizations to implement Article 18 of the ICCPR and the 1981 UN Declaration on Freedom of Religion or Belief: http://www.tandemproject.com/tolerance.pdf .

The 3rd session of the Ad Hoc Committee will be held from 30 November to 10 December 2010 in Geneva.

Attachments: Geneva- Report by UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief to the 13th session of UN Human Rights Council; Draft Resolution on Defamation of Religions, 13th Session (Geneva); Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the elaboration of complimentary standards to the 13th Session of the Human Rights Council; United States of America Draft Resolution – Ad Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of Complementary Standards.