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Now is the Time

 

 
 

PROGRESS - MANDATE ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF

Prefatory Note:  This is the fifty year anniversary of what has become an annual Mandate on Freedom of Religion or Belief, beginning with the Arcot Krishnaswami Study in 1960 that laid the foundation for work by the United Nations in this field and culminating in 2010  by the U.N. Human Rights Council to achieve consensus on the mandate.

Progress on the Mandate on Freedom of Religion or Belief has been made in this consensus by the U.N. Human Rights Council. One future option may be a Working Group for a Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief deferred since 1968. This would give the Mandate (1) increased staff support as a core binding international treaty expanding Special Procedures of one expert to cover all U.N. Member States, and (2) elevate the discourse to a higher level for an international audience.

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 & State

Issue: Progress – Mandate on Freedom of Religion or Belief

For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society
                                                                                                                                                                             
Attachments: Arcot Krishnaswami Study – Fifty year commemoration; Consensus Not Reached- 2007 Mandate on Freedom of Religion or Belief; Consensus Reached – 2010 Mandate on Freedom of Religion or Belief; New Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Appointed.

Open link to Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief: International Standards, Individual Complaints –model questionnaire, Annual Reports, Country Visits, Documents, Issues in Focus and Press Releases;

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

EXCERPTS FROM ATTACHMENTS

The Arcot Krishnaswami Study – Forward & Outline

The India Universal Periodic Review range of issues is as large and diverse as the nation itself.  The Tandem Project focus here is on the ARCOT KRISHNASWAMI STUDY of India as a follow-up to the India Universal Periodic Review & Freedom of Religion or Belief.  2010  is the fifty year anniversary of the Arcot Krishnaswami Study published in 1960 as the seminal study for U.N. International Human Rights Law on Freedom of Religion or Belief. The Krishnaswami Study laid the ground work for fifty years of effort by the U.N. in this field. 

The Tandem Project suggests, in commemoration of the Arcot Krishnaswami Study, the U.N.  High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) publish the study in the six languages of the United Nations as a resource document in Human Rights Education (HRE) and consider asking the government of India, in honor of the work of Arcot Krishnaswami of India,  to host a seminar on the Krishnaswami Study as a benchmark study comparing past and present actions and the future of International Human Rights Law on Freedom of Religion or Belief (see bullet point HISTORY and Reflections below).

The Tandem Project in commemoration of the fifty year anniversary of the Krishnaswami Study, calls on the U.N. Human Rights Council to draft an International Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief. The U.N. Human Rights Council  in its 14th session  reached consensus on a three year mandate on freedom of religion or  belief and appointed a new U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief (Forward & Outline Attached).

Consensus Not Reached – 2007 Mandate on Freedom of Religion or Belief

The Human Rights Council resolution extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief by three years (A/HRC/RES/6/37) was the only resolution that did not pass by consensus. An attempt was made for consensus by leaving out 24 out of 40 paragraphs. According to the International Service for Human Rights report, “Portugal (on behalf of the EU) introduced the draft, regretted that despite intensive consultations since the end of the September part of the 6th session, consensus could not be reached. It said that the negotiations efforts were exhausted and it had no other option than bringing the draft to a vote. However, it pledged that it would take up the negotiations again; hoping that consensus on the issue could be re-established soon.”

The United Nations Human Rights Council voted 29 in favor, 0 against and 18 abstentions on 14 December 2007 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. (Attached). 

Consensus Reached – 2010 Mandate on Freedom of Religion or Belief

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 more years.

Spain, introduced the resolution on behalf of the European Union (EU). Pakistan speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic States (OIC) dropped an amendment in partial opposition. Egypt  congratulated the States parties that worked on the compromise and called for continued dialogue as the best path to follow for this “core human rights” issue. 

Major stumbling blocks between U.N. Member States in achieving consensus on the mandate were resolved by the following resolution which will be presented to the U.N. General Assembly in New York for approval. (Attached).

New U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Appointed

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.”

The principle of universality of human rights is the cornerstone of international human rights law.

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Pages/WhatareHumanRights.aspx

International Human Rights Law on Freedom of Religion or Belief 

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, practice and teaching.

No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his   choice.

Freedom of 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.

The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education in conformity with their own convictions.

THE TANDEM PROJECT FOLLOW-UP

  • 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

1984: a co-founder of The Tandem Project represented the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) at a two week Geneva Seminar called by the U.N.  Secretariat on how to implement the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. In 1986 The Tandem Project hosted the first International Conference on the 1981 U.N. Declaration on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

1986: Minnesota held the first International Conference on how to implement the 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. Thirty-five international delegates and forty-five  Minnesota delegates were invited. Minnesota organizations and individuals proposed twenty-seven Community Strategies on how to implement the 1981 U.N. Declaration under: Synopsis, Strategy, Objectives, Program Approach, Obstacles and Outcomes

Minnesota Community Strategieshttp://www.tandemproject.com/tolerance.pdf

2010: this is a proposal to exchange ideas on how new strategies can be developed to use International Human Rights Law on Freedom of Religion or Belief.   The Tandem Project suggests three generic proposals on Integration, Dialogue and Education for an exchange of information worldwide with organizations and individuals.  

1. Develop model integrated approaches to International Human Rights Standards on Freedom of Religion or Belief at national and local levels to test the reality of implementation as appropriate to the constitutions, legal systems and cultures of each country.

2. Use International Human Rights Standards on Freedom of Religion or Belief as appropriate to each culture and venue for inclusive and genuine dialogue on freedom of religion or belief.   

3. Apply International Human Rights Standards on Freedom of Religion or Belief in education curricula as appropriate in all grade levels, teaching 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.

“Our educational systems need to provide children with a broad orientation: from the very beginning, children should be taught 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.” 2006- Mr. Piet de Klerk:  Ambassador-at-Large of the Netherlands on Human Rights.

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.

  • QUESTION: Human nature is intractable as weapons of mass destruction increase with national-ethnic-religious justification. The U.N.  Review Conference on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and studies on the use of biological and cyber weapons demonstrate this trend as a growing concern. The question is whether present International Human Rights Law on Freedom of Religion or Belief is enough or if a core human rights treaty on freedom of religion or belief, supported at a higher level, would reduce the risk of using weapons of mass destruction. Synergy meaning each is incapable of acting alone on this issue needs consideration by the U.N. Security Council and U.N. Human Rights Council.

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.

Attachments: