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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

Universal Periodic Review reports in six languages

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/tnsession1.aspx

If reports below blue bar do not open, click to access these reports in the master link above

Universal Periodic Review - Tunisia

Only contributions submitted in one of the United Nations official languages are admissible and posted on this webpage

Date of consideration: Tuesday 8 April 2008 - 10.00 a.m. - 1.00 p.m.

National report 1 :

A | C | E | F | R | S

Compilation of UN information 2 :

A | C | E | F | R | S

Summary of stakeholders' information 3 :

A | C | E | F | R | S

Questions submitted in advance

Outcome of the review :

Report of the Working group :

A | C | E | F | R | S

Corrigendum :

A | C | E | F | R | S

Decision on the outcome :

E only

Report of the eight session of the Human Rights Council :

A|C| E | F | R | S

Related webcast archives

Main Country Page: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/MENARegion/Pages/TNIndex.aspx
Inter-active Dialoguehttp://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/TNWebArchives.aspx


BACKGROUND HUMAN RIGHTS & FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF

Universal Periodic Review in April 2008 as Preparation for the Universal Periodic Review in April 2012. This is NOT a submission to the UN for the 2012 Universal Periodic Review.

Prep for 2nd Cycle 13th Session – UPR & Freedom of Religion or Belief

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

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.


REPORT OF THE WORKING GROUP – RECOMMENDATIONS
RELATING DIRECTLY TO FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF

The Interactive Dialogue had 81 delegation comments.  The following made comments directly related to freedom of religion or belief; # 21 India, #32 Singapore, #74 Jordan, #78 Holy See.  There were 12 recommendations that enjoyed the support of Tunisia.  One related directly to freedom of religion or belief; #11 by Jordan and the Holy See recommending dialogue between civilizations, cultures and religions.


REPORTS OF THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomReligion/Pages/FreedomReligionIndex.aspx

There were no country visits to Tunisia by UN Special Rapporteur’s on Freedom of Religion or Belief. However, Abdelfattah Amor of Tunisia was the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief from 1993-2004.  He currently represents Tunisia as a member of the UN Human Rights Committee that oversees, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 


CONSTITUTION OF TUNISIA

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constituent_Assembly_of_Tunisia

“On 10 December 2011, the assembly adopted a provisional constitution.[7] According to articles VIII and IX of the document, the requirements for the eligibility as president are exclusive Tunisian nationality (excluding citizens with dual nationality), having Tunisian parentage, religious affiliation to Islam, and an age of 35 years or more.[8] 141 delegates approved of the law, 37 voted against, and 39 abstained.[7]


CULTURE OF TOLERANCE AND PEACE BASED ON RELIGION OR BELIEF

ADOPTED BY CONSENSUS WITHOUT A VOTE 

United Nations Resolution – a Culture of Tolerance & Peace Based  on 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.

One best hope is Resolution A/HRC/16/18/L.47, a Culture of Tolerance and Peace, introduced by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in the UN Human Rights Council and adopted by consensus in the UN General Assembly as A/RES/66/147 on 19 December 2011. 

Introduced by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference  (OIC)  adopted by consensus without a vote. - Resolution A/HRC/16/18/L.38, Geneva, March 24 2011

Recognizes that the open public debate of ideas, as well as interfaith and intercultural dialogue at the local, national and international levels can be among the best protections against religious intolerance, and can play a positive role in strengthening democracy and combating religious hatred, and convinced that a continuing dialogue on these issues can help overcome existing misperceptions.

Calls for strengthened international efforts to foster a global dialogue for the promotion of a culture of tolerance and peace at all levels, based on respect for human rights and diversity of religions and beliefs, and decides to convene a panel discussion on this issue at its seventeenth session within existing resources.

Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC) Mr. Zamir Akram  [English] 10 minutes Saudi Arabia Mr. Ahmed Suleiman Ibrahim Alaquil  [English] [Arabic] 1 minute Norway Ms. Beate Stirø [English] 2 minutes United States of America Mr. Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe [English] 5 minutes Hungary (on behalf of the European Union) Mr. András Dékány  [English] 3 minutes

UN Human Rights Council Panel Statements, Resolution A-HRC-16-18, 2010 General Assembly Third Committee Actions

Introduced by United Arab Emirates on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) adopted by consensus without a vote – Resolution A/C.3/66/L.47, New York, 15 November 2011

                 UN Third Committee Press Release - Resolution L.47 Adopted by Consensus

                http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/C.3/66/L.47/Rev.1

The Resolution identified as A/RES/66/147 by the General Assembly welcomes the establishment of the “King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural dialogue in Vienna, initiated by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on the  basis of purposes and principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and acknowledging the important role that this Centre is expected to play as a platform for the enhancement of interreligious and intercultural dialogue.” 


FOCUS GROUPS ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF

Focus Groups on Freedom of Religion or Belief will be proposed to exchange international best practice models on ways to implement United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/RES/66/147.

Question: How will Tunisia with an Islamic Constitution use UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/66/147 to maintain cultural identity, principles and values together with international human rights law, principles and values on freedom of religion or belief.

In 1984, the United Nations Secretariat sponsored a two week Geneva Seminar on ways to implement the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion or Belief, Seminar on the Encouragement of Understanding, Tolerance and Respect in Matters Relating to Freedom of Religion or Belief (1984) ST/HR/SER. A/16 Geneva.  In 1986, The Tandem Project hosted the first International Conference, Tolerance for Diversity of Religion or Belief,  on how to implement the 1981 UN Declaration.

Discussion included ways to promote tolerance for diversity of religion or belief at a local level. A theist introduced the speaker on Atheism and the 1981 UN Declaration, and an atheist introduced the speaker on Theism and the 1981 UN Declaration. 27 Community Strategies were presented on how to implement the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief at a local level. 

1986 International Conference: Tolerance for Diversity of Religion or Belief

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


SEPARATION OF RELIGION OR BELIEF AND STATE

Separation of Religion or Belief and State is a term used by The Tandem Project to express core principles of international human rights law on freedom of religion or belief. UN Member States are mandated with or without separation of religion or belief to ensure their constitutional and legal systems provide effective guarantees of freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief to all without distinction at international, national and local levels.

UNIVERSAL PRINCIPLE  

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 Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not favor one religion or belief over another. Human Rights Law protects all individuals from discrimination based on religion or belief. It values the equal rights of majority and minority religions or beliefs, indigenous, traditional and new religious movements. It is a universal moral principle.

GOAL

The right of persons to manifest their own values, cultural identity and core principles based on religion or belief together with human rights law, principles and values on freedom of religion or belief.

Build awareness, understanding and support at international, national and local levels for a UN Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief as a legally-binding international human rights treaty.

HISTORY

In 1968, the United Nations deferred passage of a legally-binding convention on religious intolerance saying it was too complicated and sensitive. http://www.tandemproject.com/program/history.htm

In 1981, 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. http://www.tandemproject.com/program/81_dec.htm.

In 1998, the Oslo Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief was the catalyst a for change of title from Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance to Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief 1998 UN Conference Report

In 2012, The Tandem Project plans to launch a new website, Separation of Religion or Belief and State, by subscription to track the progress of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/RES/66/147 a Culture of Tolerance and Peace Based on Religion or Belief.

The Tandem Project believes until a core legally-binding human rights treaty a Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief is adopted international human rights law will be incomplete.


FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF

U.S. State Department 2010 International Religious Freedom Report, Tunisia

http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/2010/148847.htm

Excerpts

“The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the freedom to practice the rites of one's religion unless they disturb the public order; however, the government imposes some restrictions on this right. The constitution stipulates the country's determination to adhere to the teachings of Islam, that Islam is the official state religion, and that the president is required to be Muslim.”

“Although religious conversion was legal, there was great societal pressure against the conversion of Muslims to other religious groups. Muslims who converted to another religion faced social ostracism.”

Complete 2010 Report

November 17, 2010


The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the freedom to practice the rites of one's religion unless they disturb the public order; however, the government imposes some restrictions on this right. The constitution stipulates the country's determination to adhere to the teachings of Islam, that Islam is the official state religion, and that the president is required to be Muslim.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the government during the reporting period. The government prohibited efforts to proselytize Muslims; it also restricted the wearing of "sectarian dress," including the hijab (Islamic headscarf). Domestic and international human rights organizations reported instances of police harassment of women wearing the hijab and men with traditional Islamic dress and beards. The government sponsored three conferences to promote religious tolerance during the reporting period.

Muslims who converted to another religion faced social ostracism. The press published some cartoons depicting derogatory caricatures of Jews to criticize Israel.

During meetings with government officials, the U.S. embassy staff often raised the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as an essential component to democracy building. The embassy hosted several key speakers to engage youth, women’s groups, and civil society about mainstream views and practices of Islam in American society as a way to promote religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 63,170 square miles and a population of 10.5 million. The population is 99 percent Muslim and overwhelmingly Sunni. Groups that constitute less than 1 percent of the population include Shi'a Muslims, Baha'is, Jews, and Christians.

The Christian community, composed of foreign residents and a small group of native-born citizens of European or Arab descent, numbers approximately 25,000 and is dispersed throughout the country. There are an estimated 22,000 Roman Catholics, approximately 500 of whom regularly participate in religious activities. The Catholic Church operated 12 churches, nine schools, several libraries, and two clinics. There are approximately 2,000 Protestant Christians, including a few hundred citizens who have converted to Christianity. The Russian Orthodox Church has a congregation of approximately 100 members and maintained churches in Tunis and Bizerte. The French Reform Church maintains a church in Tunis, with a congregation estimated at 140 primarily foreign members. The Anglican Church has a church in Tunis with several hundred predominantly foreign members. There are approximately 50 Seventh-day Adventists. The Greek Orthodox Church has an estimated 30 members and maintained three churches (in Tunis, Sousse, and Djerba). There are also approximately 50 Jehovah's Witnesses, of whom half are foreign residents and half are native-born citizens.

Judaism is the country's third largest religion with approximately 1,600 members. One-third of the Jewish population lives in and around the capital. The remainder live on the island of Djerba and the neighboring town of Zarzis, where the Jewish community has been present for 2,500 years.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the freedom to practice the rites of one's religion unless they disturb the public order; however, the government imposed some restrictions on this right. The constitution stipulates the country's determination to adhere to the teachings of Islam, that Islam is the official state religion, and that the President is required to be a Muslim. The government prohibited efforts to proselytize Muslims and restricted the wearing of "sectarian dress," including the hijab (Islamic headscarf) by women and beards and the qamis (knee-length shirts) by men. Citizens have a right to sue the government for violations of religious freedom.
The government does not prohibit conversion from Islam to another religion, and the government does not require registration of conversion; however, government officials occasionally harassed and discriminated against converts from Islam to another religion, reportedly using bureaucratic means such as denial of institutional promotions to discourage conversion.

It was illegal to proselytize to Muslims as the government viewed such efforts as disturbing the public order.

The government regarded the Baha'i faith as a heretical sect of Islam and permitted its adherents to practice their faith only in private. The government permitted Baha'is to hold meetings of their national council in private homes, and three Local Spiritual Assemblies--the local governing body--have been elected since 2004.

The government controlled and subsidized mosques and paid the salaries of imams (clerics). The president appointed the Grand Mufti of the Republic, who is the official expounder of Islamic law. The 1988 Law on Mosques stipulates that only personnel appointed by the government may lead activities in mosques and that mosques must remain closed except during prayer times and authorized religious ceremonies, such as marriages or funerals. However, several historically significant mosques were partially open to tourists and other visitors for a few hours each day, several days a week. New mosques may be built in accordance with national urban planning regulations; however, upon completion, they became the property of the government. The authorities have reportedly informed imams that those who used mosques to "spread ideologies" would be prosecuted.

Based on Islamic law, the government forbade domestic marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men; however, the government generally recognized such marriages if performed abroad. On occasion, however, the government did not recognize such marriages as legal, forcing the couple to seek a court ruling to legitimize the marriage. If a man converts to Islam, he may marry a Muslim woman. Muslim men and non-Muslim women who are married cannot inherit from each other, and children from those marriages, all of whom the government considers to be Muslim, cannot inherit from their mothers.

In some family cases, courts applied an Islamic law-based interpretation of civil law. Some families avoided the application of Islamic law on inheritance issues by executing sales contracts between parents and children to ensure that sons and daughters received equal shares of property.

Civil law was codified; however, judges were known to override codified family or inheritance laws if their interpretation of Islamic law contradicted it. For example, codified laws provide women with custody over their minor children; however, when fathers contested cases, judges generally refused to grant women permission to leave the country with their children, maintaining that Islamic law appointed the father as the head of the family and, as such, he must grant permission for the children to travel.

The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Islamic holy days of Eid al-Adha, the Islamic New Year, the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, and Eid al-Fitr.

The government does not permit the establishment of political parties based on religion, and it continued to ban the Islamist movement En-Nahdha. The government asserted that religious parties could be vehicles for extremism and that by preventing political parties from becoming channels for intolerance, hatred, and terrorism, it promoted societal tolerance. The government maintained tight surveillance over Islamists and did not issue passports to some alleged Islamists. It maintained that only the courts possessed the power to revoke passports; however, reports indicated that the government rarely observed this separation of powers in politically sensitive cases and independently revoked and denied renewal of passports.

Religious groups were subject to the same restrictions on the freedoms of speech and the press as nonreligious groups. There is no law requiring the government to approve all locally produced printed material prior to publication or distribution. Christian groups, however, have reported that the government generally did not grant permission to publish and distribute Christian texts in Arabic. Christian groups reported that they were able to distribute previously approved religious publications in European languages without difficulty, but the government allowed only established churches to distribute religious publications to parishioners. It considered other groups' distribution of religious documents to be a "threat to public order" and thus illegal.

Government decrees dating from 1981 and 1986 restricted the wearing of sectarian dress, generally interpreted to mean the hijab, in government offices and discouraged women from wearing it on public streets and at certain public gatherings. In 2006 a lower court ruled that the 1986 decree was unconstitutional, but the ruling was not binding. The government stated that the hijab was a sign of membership in a fundamentalist group that hides behind religion to achieve political ends and that, according to one modern Islamic school of thought, wearing the hijab was not an obligation. The government described the hijab as a sectarian garment of foreign origin and justified its restriction of the hijab in public institutions as necessary to preserve the impartiality of officials.

Both religious and nonreligious nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were subject to the same legal and administrative regulations that imposed some restrictions on freedom of assembly. For example, all NGOs were required to notify the government of meetings held in public spaces at least three days in advance and to submit lists of all meeting participants to the Ministry of Interior. The government allowed a small number of foreign religious charitable NGOs to operate and provide social services.

The government recognizes all Christian and Jewish religious organizations that were established before independence in 1956. Although the government permitted Christian churches to operate freely as long as they did not proselytize, it has formally recognized only the Catholic Church, through a 1964 concordat with the Holy See. In addition to authorizing 14 churches "serving all sects" of the country, the government recognized land grants signed by the Bey of Tunis in the 18th and 19th centuries that allowed other churches to operate. Occasionally, Catholic and Protestant religious groups held services in private residences or other locations after the government's formal approval.

The government allowed the Jewish community freedom of worship and paid the salary of the Grand Rabbi. It also provides security for all synagogues and partially subsidized restoration and maintenance costs for some. Government employees maintained the Jewish cemetery in Tunis.

Authorities previously deported non-Muslim foreigners suspected of proselytizing and did not permit them to return; however, recent anecdotal evidence suggested that the government instead denied suspected missionaries visa renewal or pressured employers not to extend their contracts. However, there were no reported cases of official action against persons suspected of proselytizing during the reporting period.

Islamic religious education was mandatory in public schools, but the religious curriculum for secondary school students also included the history of Judaism and Christianity. The Zeitouna Qur'anic School was part of the government's national university system, which is otherwise secular.

The government permitted the Jewish community to operate private religious schools and allowed Jewish children on the island of Djerba to split their academic day between secular public schools and private religious schools. The government-run Essouani School and the Houmt Souk Secondary School were the only schools where Jewish and Muslim students studied together. To accommodate Jewish students, who considered Saturday to be holy, the school authorities determined that Muslim students would attend Islamic education lessons on Saturdays, while their Jewish classmates attended classes on religion at a Jewish school in Djerba. There was also a small private Jewish school in Tunis.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Since gaining independence in 1956, the government has not permitted any Protestant Christian groups seeking legal status to establish new churches, most Christian groups no longer attempted to apply for registration.

Although the government has not granted the 1999 request of the Association of the Jewish Community of Tunis to be registered, the association's president and board of governors continued to meet weekly and performed religious activities and charity work unhindered.

The government also took disciplinary action to punish imams who failed to follow religious programs approved by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. On January 4, 2010, a local NGO reported that the Delegate-in-Charge of Religious Affairs at the governor’s office in the southern city of Gabes fired the imam at the local Sidi Idriss Mosque for failing to abide by the list of religious subjects for Friday public prayers approved by the Ministry of Religious Affairs

There were continued reports of police requiring women to remove veils in offices, on the street, at universities, and at some public gatherings; however, it was nonetheless common to see women wearing the hijab in a variety of public settings and on university campuses.

School officials took disciplinary action on several occasions to punish and deter women wearing the hijab. On May 20, 2010, a local NGO reported that the administration of a high school in the northwestern governorate of Manouba refused to notify 70 female students of their college entry exam results because the students continuously wore hijabs during the school year. Similarly, on January 6, 2010, according to the same local NGO, the principal of a high school in the northern governorate of Nabeul forced a female student to remove her hijab and sign a statement that she would desist from wearing the hijab. The student was subsequently arrested, interrogated at a police station about her religious beliefs, and later released.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

In 2010 there were reports that police harassed or detained men with long beards or who wore traditional Islamic-style clothing. According to human rights lawyers, the government regularly questioned and detained some Muslims who were observed praying frequently in mosques. Human rights lawyers and activists reported that on January 9, 2010, following the Friday prayer at the Taouba Mosque in Tunis, police officers surrounded the mosque and arrested several young men who regularly prayed at the mosque.

In 2007 and 2008, according to allegations of some human rights groups and defense lawyers, the government arrested some men because of their Islamic appearance, their frequent attendance at mosques, or other actions related to their practice of Islam

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees during the reporting period.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

The government promoted interfaith understanding by sponsoring regular conferences and seminars on religious tolerance. For example, on October 6 to 8, 2009, the government with assistance from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation hosted an international seminar to promote religious tolerance entitled "Religions and World Peace Culture."

In 2007 the governor of Medenine approved the request of a Jewish organization in Djerba for registration. The group performed religious activities and charitable work unobstructed both before and after receiving official approval.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Although religious conversion was legal, there was great societal pressure against the conversion of Muslims to other religious groups. Muslims who converted to another religion faced social ostracism.

Some cartoons depicted derogatory caricatures of Jews to portray Israel and Israeli interests. Cartoonists drew most of these cartoons outside of the country, and they were reprinted locally in mainstream daily newspapers.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. embassy discusses religious freedom with the government and state institutions as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The embassy maintains good relations with leaders of majority and minority religious groups throughout the country, and the U.S. ambassador and other embassy officials met regularly with government officials and religious leaders throughout the reporting period.

The embassy scheduled meetings for high-level Washington visitors with interfaith leaders and influential members of various religious communities. The ambassador hosted several Jewish delegations visiting the country, and embassy officials accompanied many of these delegations to Jewish communities in various parts of the country. The ambassador and other embassy officials visited the El-Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba during the Jewish Passover celebration and met with local religious leaders. The Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism visited Djerba during the annual Lag B’Omer pilgrimage and also met with local Jewish leaders.

The embassy fostered regular exchanges that included components designed to highlight U.S. traditions of religious tolerance and pluralism. The embassy engaged with civil society groups such as women’s organizations, civil society associations, educational institutions, and student organizations. The embassy regularly engaged younger citizens of the country, as active participants in shaping the public policy and religious perception of their country, in discussions on the varied ways religion informs political life. The embassy hosted several key speakers to engage youth, women’s groups, and civil society about mainstream views and practices of Islam in American society as a way to promote religious freedom.

During meetings with government officials, embassy staff often raised the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Specifically, on Human Rights Day and in roundtable discussions with civil society activists, embassy staff emphasized the Universal Declaration of Human Rights' international recognition of religious freedom as a fundamental human right and an essential component for building democracy.


REFLECTIONS

The Tandem Project

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 or neither trumps the other. 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 often legitimized for national security and justified by cultural, ethnic, religious or political 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 a 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 believes until a core legally-binding human rights Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief  is adopted international human rights law will be incomplete. It may be time to begin to consider reinstating the 1968 Working Group to bring all matters relating to freedom of religion or belief under one banner, a core international human rights legally-binding treaty.


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.

Documents Attached: Rights & Beliefs; 1981 UN Declaration & 1990 Cairo Declaration