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UN News Release
‘State religions’ should never be used for national identity politics – UN expert

GENEVA (6 March 2012) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Heiner Bielefeldt today said that “official ‘State religions’ should never be used for purposes of national identity politics, as this may have detrimental effects for the situation of individuals from minority communities.” He also urged States to make sure that any privileges, financial or otherwise, granted to ‘official’ religions or beliefs should not amount to any kind of discrimination against members of other religions or beliefs.      

“It seems difficult, if not impossible, to conceive of an official ‘State religion’ that in practice does not have adverse effects on religious minorities, thus discriminating against their members,” said Mr. Bielefeldt presenting his report*  on freedom of religion or belief and ‘recognition’ issues, at the current session of the UN Human Rights Council.

The report explores key issues from the meanings of ‘recognition’ regarding the right to freedom of religion or belief, to the limits that registration procedures can impose on certain religious or belief communities, and the need for States ensure that an official ‘State religion’ does not discriminate religious minorities.

“Respect for freedom of religion or belief as a human right does not depend on administrative registration procedures, as it has the status of a human right, prior to and independent of any acts of State approval,” the Special Rapporteur stressed.

Mr. Bielefeldt distinguishes between three different meanings of the concept of State recognition, underscoring the need of clearly distinguishing between them to avoid misunderstandings that could affect the implementation of freedom of religion or belief, or even undermine its status as a universal human right.

·    “Recognition” as due respect for the status of all human beings as right holders by virtue of their inherent dignity.
·    “Recognition” in terms of States providing the status of legal personality, which religious or belief groups may need for the exercise of important communitarian aspects of their freedom of religion or belief.
·    “Recognition” in the sense of States according a specific privileged status position to some religious or belief communities.

The UN independent expert called on States to offer appropriate options for religious or belief communities to achieve the status of legal personality, which may be needed to undertake important community functions relevant for the full enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief, which is a right of individuals to be exercised either alone or together with others. “Registration procedures for obtaining legal personality status should be quick, transparent, fair, inclusive and non-discriminatory,” he said.

(*) Check the full report: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session19/A-HRC-19-60_en.pdf


Heiner Bielefeldt assumed his mandate as Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief on 1st August 2010. He is Professor of Human Rights and Human Rights Politics at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg. From 2003 to 2009, he was Director of Germany’s National Human Rights Institution. Mr. Bielefeldt’s research interests include various interdisciplinary facets of human rights theory and practice, with a focus on freedom of religion or belief. Log on: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/religion/

Other reports by the Special Rapporteur:
Paraguay: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session19/A-HRC-19-60-Add1_en.pdf
Moldova: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session19/A-HRC-19-60-Add2_en.pdf  

Download the “Rapporteur's Digest on Freedom of Religion or Belief”: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/religion/docs/RapporteursDigestFreedomReligionBelief.pdf

For more information and media requests please contact Chian Yew Lim (+41 22 917 9722 / clim@ohchr.org) or write to freedomofreligion@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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Check the Universal Human Rights Index: http://uhri.ohchr.org/en


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.

Document Attached: Rights & Beliefs