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Now is the Time

 

 
 

THE TANDEM PROJECT  
http://www.tandemproject.com.
info@tandemproject.com.

UNITED NATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS,
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF

The Tandem Project is a UN NGO in Special Consultative Status with the
Economic and Social Council of the United Nations

Separation of Religion or Belief and State

PROFESSOR DR. HEINER BIELEFELDT

NEW U.N. SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF

U.N. REACHES CONSENSUS ON MANDATE ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF

The United Nations Human Rights Council closed its fourteenth session by appointing a new U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and extending the mandate for another three years. Professor Dr. Heiner Bielefeldt of the University of Erlangen-Nurnberg Germany is the new special expert for the mandate.  Professor Bielefeldt is Chair of Human Rights and Human Rights Policy in the Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Theology. He is a Catholic theologian and philosopher and former Director, German Institute of Human Rights, Berlin. He has written and published extensively on political secularism and has an article available here by link “Western versus Islamic Human Rights and Conceptions: A Critique of Cultural Essentialism in the Discussion of Human Rights.”

http://www.unesco-phil.uni-bremen.de/Texte%20zur%20Vorlesung/MR%20-%20Islam%20-%20Bielefeldt.pdf

Professor Bielefeldt is the fourth U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief since 1986; Mr. Angelo d’Almeida Ribeiro (Portugal) 1886-1993; Mr. Abdelfattah Amor (Tunisia) 1993-2004; Ms. Asma Jahangir (Pakistan) 2004-2010; Mr. Bielefeldt (Germany) 2010-.

http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/religion/index.htm

The Title of the Mandate was changed by the U.N. Human Rights Commission and the U.N. General Assembly in 2000 from U.N. Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance to U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.  Mr. Abdelfattah Amor, in his report E/CN.4/1999/58 recommended the change in the title in paragraph 122 Title and Consistency of the Mandate: “The Special Rapporteur reiterates his recommendation that a more neutral and encouraging title, such as ‘Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief’ should be used. The present one, with it reference to religious intolerance, antagonizes certain interlocutors and sometimes makes dialogue difficult. A different title could embrace all aspects of freedom of religion or belief. It must also be consistent with the mandate, covering not only religion but also belief and intolerance, as well as discrimination, and reflect the balanced dialogue-oriented approach followed by the Special Rapporteur in his work, in accordance with the resolutions governing his mandate. (see attachment).

Bahiyyih G. Tahzib stressed the importance of definitions in her commentary, Freedom of Religion or Belief: Ensuring Effective International Legal Protection; “Sensitivity to labels is critically important for religious and nonreligious people when trying to reduce intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief. Passionate anger can quickly arise if people perceive their deeply-held beliefs being described unfairly. Giving a label to matters of religion and other beliefs has always been a challenge to the United Nations and its Member States as it involves complex and sensitive definitional issues.”

UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL

Spain on behalf of the European Union introduced (A/HRC/14/L.5) Freedom of Religion or Belief: Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.  There were three UN Human Rights Council general comments and explanations before the vote. Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) called the resolution by its correct title and withdrew an amendment objecting to parts of the resolution. Egypt before the vote referred to the draft resolution on religion and religious intolerance without use of the title, freedom of religion or belief.

The Honorable Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, head of the U.S. Delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Council, in her comment and explanation before the vote referred to him as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on “Freedom of Religion.” Ambassador Donahoe has an M.A. from Harvard Divinity School and a PhD from the California Graduate Theological Union. Her title is consistent with the titles of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and the U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom Report. The Tandem Project suggests the United States of America Universal Periodic Review National Report include an amendment to the U.S. Congress to change these titles to be more inclusive and in agreement with the title adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief (see attachment).

UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL REACHES CONSENSUS ON THE MANDATE

The United Nations Human Rights Council reached consensus the last day of the 14th session June 18 2010 on extending the mandate of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief for three years. This resolves at least for now the tension between Member States on the Council going back to the extended sixth session on 14 December 2007. Spain, introducing the mandate on freedom of religion or belief for the European Union (EU) announced 10 oral revisions from the floor that have yet to be published on the OHCHR  website. Egypt speaking in behalf of the draft resolution congratulated all the parties that worked on the compromise and called for continued dialogue between all parties on the best path to follow for this “core human rights” issue. Consensus ended a three year impasse on this issue.

On 14 December 2007 the United Nations Human Rights Council voted 29 in favor, 0 against and 18 abstentions in the sixth session for a three year extension of the mandate on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (A/HRC/6/L.15/Rev.1). There are 47 members of the Human Rights Council. Those voting to abstain included: Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Cameroon, China, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa and Sri Lanka. 
The 18 country abstentions were based on the objections from Pakistan, spoken on behalf of the 57 country Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) that norms in Muslim countries prohibit leaving Islam as a religion, and were not being honored in the draft resolution. Portugal, speaking on behalf of the European Union (EU) said over 40 paragraphs in the draft resolution was eliminated in an attempt at consensus with the abstaining states, but consensus over the right to leave one’s religion or belief was inviolable and could not be compromised. 
The Resolution (A/HRC/RES/6/37) with recorded votes can be viewed by clicking on this link:

http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/E/HRC/resolutions/A_HRC_RES_6_37.pdf

The tension that created this situation regarding the U.N. approach to human rights and freedom of religion or belief started with the 1960 Study of Discrimination in the Matter of Religious Rights and Practices by Arcot Krishnaswami of India. It was initially prepared for the U.N. Sub-Commission on Human Rights in preparation for a core legally-binding human rights treaty on the elimination of all forms of religious intolerance which proved at the time according to some to be too sensitive and complicated. Instead, the seminal fifty year old Krishnaswami study prepared the way for Article 18 of the legally-binding International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and many of the articles in the non-binding 1981 U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. This is the rights-based approach to ethics on freedom of religion or belief  


The Krishnaswami Study in its first footnote had this to say about  an inclusive approach to freedom of religion or beliefIn view of the difficulty of defining ‘religion’, the term ‘religion or belief’ is used in this study to include, in addition to various theistic creeds, such other beliefs as agnosticism, free thought, atheism and rationalism. The year-by-year history points to the difficulty and sensitivity to achieve consensus. Statistics point to need for inclusiveness.

  • HISTORY: The United Nations failed to achieve consensus on a legally binding international treaty on religious intolerance, settling instead for the non-binding 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion or Belief.

http://www.tandemproject.com/program/history.htm

  • STATISTICS: The United Nations protects all theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. Statistics: builds the case for an    inclusive and genuine approach to implementing human rights and freedom of religion or belief.

http://www.tandemproject.com/program/major_religions.htm

The Honorable Ambassador Donahoe is eminently qualified to make recommendations on human rights and freedom of religion or belief for the National Report as a former Affiliated Scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, with an M.A. from Harvard Divinity School and PhD in Ethics at The California Graduate Theological Union. Her thesis was  Humanitarian Military Intervention: The Moral Imperative Versus the Rule of Law.
Ambassador Donahoe has a J.D. degree from the Stanford University Law School.

  • QUESTION: International Human Rights Law on Freedom of Religion or Belief is worthless at a local level if there is no awareness, understanding or use. In 1968 the U.N. deferred work on a legally-binding Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Religious Intolerance as too complicated and sensitive. Human nature seems intractable as weapons of mass destruction increase with national-ethnic-religious justification. This is a contemporary issue as the recent U.N.  Review Conference on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and U.N. studies on the use of biological weapons demonstrate. The question is whether the present human rights law on freedom of religion or belief has enough strength and support without core treaty status to be an important aspect of human rights education to reduce the future risk of weapons of mass destruction.

Reflections

The First Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads: 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.

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.

There is an increase in dialogue today between religions and other beliefs to embrace diversity, but few persons, less than one percent of any population, ever participate. This is a challenge. The value of such dialogues is proportionate to the level of participation. For civil society increased participation would create opportunities for education on inclusive and genuine approaches to human rights and freedom of religion or belief.   

In 1968 the United Nations deferred passage of a legally-binding convention on religious intolerance saying it was too complicated and sensitive. Instead, they adopted a non-binding declaration on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion or belief. While very worthwhile, the declaration does not carry the force and commitment of a legally-binding international human rights convention on freedom of religion or belief.

Religions and other beliefs historically have been used to justify wars and settle disputes. This is more dangerous today as the possible misuse of nuclear and biological weapons of mass destruction increases. Governments need to revisit whether religions and other beliefs trump human rights or human rights trump religions and other beliefs or neither trumps the other; whether culture trumps the universal or universal human rights sensitively and with respect trumps culture in the face of this historical truth.

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.