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Now is the Time

 

 
 

THE TANDEM PROJECT
http://www.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

REACHING FOR THE THIRD RAIL: CHANGING THE
TITLE AND CONSISTENCY OF THE MANDATE

U.N. SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE,
ABDELFATTAH AMOR, REPORT TO UN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS

(E/CN.4/1999/58),

http://www.tandemproject.com/G9910095.pdf

E/CN.4/1999/58: Special Rapporteur report to the Commission on Human Rights on the 1998 Oslo Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief, recommending a change in his title from Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance to Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, page 6, paragraphs 14-15. On page 31, paragraph 122, he recommends changing his title for consistency of the mandate, which was accepted by the U.N. Human Rights Commission and the U.N. General Assembly in 1999.

INITIATIVES BY STATES AND NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS

14. The Oslo Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief was held from 12 to 15 August 1998 in the context of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The goal of the conference – an initiative of Norwegian NGOs and institutes (Cooperation Council for Faith and Life Stance Societies: Council on Ecumenical and International Relations, Church of Norway; Diakonjemmet College Research Center; Institute for Human Rights, University of Oslo) and the Tandem Project NGO, and financed by the Norwegian Government – was to build an international coalition and to develop a plan of action to strengthen the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on religious intolerance and, therefore, the implementation of article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.

15. The Conference, which was attended by representatives of Governments, religious communities (Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc.) academic institutions and NGOs, adopted the Oslo Declaration on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the main principles of which are as follows:

(a) Change in the Special Rapporteur’s title, to “Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief”; study and application of articles 18 of the Covenant and the 1981 Declaration as a way of solving problems of intolerance and discrimination; creation of educational programs using the 1981 Declaration as a universal standard to build a culture of tolerance, understanding and respect; use by United Nations Member States of the 1981 Declaration and other instruments to promote mediation and negotiation and resolve intolerance, discrimination, injustice and violence in conflicts where religion or belief plays a role; research and development of other informational resources and methodologies for collecting information, initiating comparative studies, etc.

TITLE AND CONSISTENCY OF THE MANDATE

122. 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 its 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-orientated approach followed by the Special Rapporteur in his work, in accordance with the resolutions governing his mandate.


Bahiyyih G. Tahzib stressed the importance of definitions in her commentary: Freedom of Religion or Belief: Ensuring Effective International Legal Protection; “It is important to articulate the definition of the expression “freedom of religion or belief” for purposes of this study. In that respect, it is recognized that 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.” 2

2. Project Tandem Inc, Defining our Title, BELIEF & STATE, (Oct. 1992).  The fourth preamble paragraph of the 1981 Declaration acknowledges that “religion or belief, for anyone who professes either, is one of the fundamental elements in his conception of life. Bahiyyih G. Tahzib gave an address to the 1998 Oslo Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief where the recommendation for a change of title from the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance was made to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.


BACKGROUND

Information for exchange of ideas on follow-up to United Nations Universal Periodic Reviews

UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Whereas 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
 – First Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

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

The principal instruments for International Human Rights Law on Freedom of Religion or Belief is Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) and the 1981 U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.

The 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief

http://www.tandemproject.com/program/81_dec.htm.

General Comment 22 on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(Symbol)/9a30112c27d1167cc12563ed004d8f15?Opendocument

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, 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 Third Rail

International human rights law on freedom of religion or belief protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief, - General Comment 22 on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The United Nations does not favor one religion or belief over another. This international human rights law protects everyone from discrimination based on religion or belief. It includes persons of majority and minority religions or beliefs, cross-cultural traditions and values and new religious movements. It is a universal, neutral and impartial law. As a moral principle it deserves promotion. Lexicographers describe similar terminology as agnostic, the third rail on the God idea between theism and atheism.

MANDATE OF THE U.N. SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF

The U.N. Human Rights Council every three years draft a resolution for the mandate of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief who serves as an independent expert on human rights and freedom of religion or belief through a process known as Special Procedures.

2007 Mandate on Freedom of Religion or Belief (A/HRC/RES/6/37)

In 2007 the U.N.Human Rights Council mandate for the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief (A/HRC/RES/6/37) failed to achieve consensus because of objections by Pakistan and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) over the right to change one’s religion or belief:
9. Urges States:

  • (a) To ensure that their constitutional and legislative systems provide adequate and effective guarantees of freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief to all without distinction, inter alia, by the provision of effective remedies in cases where the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, or the right to practice freely one’s religion, including the right to change one’s religion or belief, is violated;

Pakistan speaking on behalf of 57 countries in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)  objected by saying, “It called  for respect for norms about the right to change one’s religion.  The EU draft explicitly urges States to guarantee the right to change one’s religion or belief,  a requirement the OIC could not subscribe to.”

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 is 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

2010 Mandate on Freedom of Religion or Belief (A/HRC/RES/14/11)

In 2010 at the 14th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council Pakistan and the OIC dropped their objections to the resolution.  The resolution was adopted without a vote for the three year mandate of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief (A/HRC/RES/14/11).
Paragraph 9 (a) the point of tension and abstentions in 2007 was deleted and an amendment withdrawn by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and several other countries to achieve consensus.

The United States,  in the U.N. Human Rights Council, referred to the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on “freedom of religion.” U.S. international reports should use the U.N. title, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Spain introducing the resolution on behalf of the EU called for consensus for the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Pakistan in reference to negative stereotyping of religion, called for consensus on the mandate on freedom of religion or belief.   

Does (A/HRC/RES/14/11) still urge states to guarantee the right to change one’s religion or belief as it did in the 2007 resolution or does it accommodate cultural norms not to change one’s religion? 

Paragraph 9 (a)  in the opinion of the EU still applies to the discharge of duties in 2010 for the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief . Whether the OIC agrees after abstaining in 2007 based on cultural norms is a key issue and needs clarity for 9 (a) to be fully implemented. 

UN Human Rights Council Resolution on Freedom of Religion or Belief\

IMPLEMENTING 9 (a)

If the resolution in 2010 includes implementing 9 (a) it will be a significant step forward. This may be the best opportunity since 1968 for practical human rights dialogue with Islam on cultural norms and the right to change one’s religion or belief. Implementing 9 (a) is not to be critical of Islam, this change is inviolable for democracy, all religions and beliefs, all governments, all members of the human family.  

Human Rights Education (HRE) curricula on the provisions of 9 (a) should be written specifically for governments and non-governmental organizations,  religions or beliefs, civil society, schools and places of worship, including for leaders of the Ummah, the family of Islam, in Islamic schools and mosques. 

Implementing 9 (a) must respect the sensitivity and complexity of this issue which was one of the causes of the 1968 impasse in drafting a legally-binding international treaty (History).

  • 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 TANDEM PROJECT 

1984: The Tandem Project co-founder represented the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) in 1984 at the two week Geneva Seminar called by the UN 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 thirty-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. These Community Strategies can be read on the following link:

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

2010: Since 1986 The Tandem Project understanding synergism to mean one cannot succeed without the other, has built support for Human Rights and Freedom of Religion or Belief simultaneously from top down and ground up. In 1986 top down was  the U.N. Human Rights Commission, now its successor the U.N. Human Rights Council.  The Tandem Project approach from the ground or local level up for national Universal Periodic Reviews & Freedom of Religion or Belief includes; Forums for Places of Worship, Academic Discourse, Schools, Women and Civil Society.

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 use of nuclear and biological weapons of mass destruction increases. Governments need to consider whether religions and other beliefs trump human rights or human rights trump religions and other beliefs. Can international human rights law help to stop the advance and use of such weapons in the face of this historic truth?

  • QUESTION: Weapons of mass destruction as history teaches are legitimized for national security and justified by ethnic and religious ideology. The U.N. Review Conference on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and studies on biological and cyber weapons demonstrate advances in science and technology is being used to increase their potential for mass destruction. The question is whether an International Convention on Human Rights and Freedom of Religion or Belief, elevated and supported equally by the U.N. Human Rights Council and U.N. Security Council, would help offset the risk of weapons of mass destruction. Recognition of the need for synergy to balance rights and security is the foundation for solving this issue.

“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds” - Robert Oppenheimer, quote from the Bhagavad Gita after exploding the first atomic bomb, Trinity 1945.

The Tandem Project a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1986 to build understanding, tolerance, and respect for diversity of religion or belief, and to prevent discrimination in matters relating to freedom of religion or belief. The Tandem Project has sponsored multiple conferences, curricula, reference material 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 the 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.

Disclaimer: The Tandem Project does not represent the institutions, organizations or individuals in Forum Proposals and is not endorsed by them. Forums are for an exchange information and ideas as a follow-up to United Nations Universal Periodic Reviews.

Documents Attached: Norway - Forum - Academic Discourse on Human Rights & Freedom of Religion or Belief; Norway - Universal Periodic Review & Freedom of Religion or Belief; Human Rights Treaty - Political Non-Starter in America; Minnesota - Academic Forum on Human Rights & Freedom of Religion or Belief; The Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression