Term 8.1.2: Conventions and Declarations


The 1981 U.N. Declaration provides a framework or paradigm on how well a U.N. Member State or a community within a state is implementing freedom of religion or belief. A Convention, unlike a Declaration, is a legally-binding human rights instrument on States who are signatories and ratify the document. Once a Convention is ratified by a required number of States it qualifies in the U.N. as a treaty-based mechanism. The U.N. establishes an oversight Committee made up of a number of ratifying States to monitor the progress of implementing its articles and other provisions. An example of this process is the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). It is a legally-binding treaty with an oversight committee and staff appointed by the U.N.

States are required to periodically submit reports on their progress to implement its provisions to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. Over the years, NGO’s have established CEDAW shadow reports, to give the U.N. information by outside observers on the accuracy of States Parties reports.

The 1981 U.N. Declaration is known as an “extra-conventional nechanism” without the legal standing of a conventional mechanism. The U.N. Commission on Human Rights has appointed a U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief to track the worldwide progress of implementing the Declaration. There is no way an unpaid independent expert (U.N. Special Rapporteur) without staff can begin to monitor States on a global basis. The U.N. has not made any move to begin to draft a legally-binding Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief in the more than twenty years since passage of the 1981 U.N. Declaration. There is nothing, however, to prevent non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) from using the 1981 U.N. Declaration to submit progress reports on how a country or community is implementing its provisions. How toMonitor Human Rights and Freedom of Religion or Belief: Equal Protection bySeparation of Belief and State, becomes a way in which NGO’s can “shadow” it progress.

Related Examples

  • Nigeria : This is a case study example of how laws in a country can be restricted or derogated with serious consequences. Nigeria is a country with a Muslim majority in the north and a Christian majority in the south. National laws are secular but allow regions of the country to institute some aspects of Shari’a (Islamic law). In October 1998, Ahmed Sani, governor of a regional state, Zamfara, signed a bill establishing Shari’a penal code. The governors of several northern Nigerian states, with predominant Muslim populations, followed his example within months. Previous to this, Shari’a law had been practiced in the north only in areas of personal family law, and then only if litigants agreed to settle disputes in Shari’a courts.

Although the new Shari’a laws in the north of Nigeria technically do not apply to Christians and other non-Muslims, the followers of these beliefs were subjected to many of the new social provisions in the laws such as separation of the sexes in public buses, separation of schools based on gender, a decree that only men with beards would win government contracts, and public floggings for minor offenses under the new Shari’a penal code. This drastic change, from secular to religious laws, had serious consequences.

Christians erupted in violence in many northern regions with the new Shari ’s laws. Communal fighting (Christian vs. Muslim religious ethnic violence) began in which many houses, churches and mosques were burned and approximately 1,500 people died. Several of the northern states, which had adopted Shari’a law, banned open air preaching, public religious processions and rallies and demonstrations in public places citing such measures were necessary for public safety. The national government of Nigeria is still struggling to resolve the question of when a national law can restrict or derogate regional Shari’a law in their northern regions.

Learning Experiences

It is difficult to compare countries or even communities with different circumstances based on religion, traditions or ethnic differences. But it is useful to use the Nigerian case study above to see how the 1981 U.N. Declaration as a paradigm for community freedom of religion or belief may have been abridged. Identify which articles of the 1981 U.N. Declaration were violated in Nigeria . Then identify either a mock-up or a real situation in your community where a local law was either restricted of derogated by a national law of your county.


Term 8.1.2: Conventions and Declarations

Use the Nigerian example to describe how a local law or regulation in your community may be restricted or derogated by a national law. Be specific if you have a case study of an actual incident in your community.