Agenda Item 11: Freedom of Religion or Belief
The above-named non-governmental organisations would wish to see this list removed in order to return to the earlier text which was clear that ALL FORMS of discrimination based on religion or belief are equally prohibited by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 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, without specifying any particular religion or belief.
We recognise that at different times and in different places certain religious groups, or those of no religion or belief, are or may be subjected to greater or more consistent forms of discrimination than other such groups. However, particular problems arise when some religions, and only some, are listed in this way and not others.
First, the degree, nature and subject of discrimination varies in different countries and/or regions, thus listing only one, two or three religions in a general resolution on the elimination of all forms of intolerance based on religion or belief, fails to take account of the particular problems, vulnerabilities and variations. The greater the number listed, the more invidious the list becomes because of those not included. In this instance, listing only the three ‘religions of the book’ creates an impression of a hierarchy – either of religions, or of victims/discrimination or of both. No form of intolerance or discrimination based on actual or supposed religion or belief, or non-belief, is acceptable.
Furthermore, listing only three religions fails to take account of the discrimination and religious intolerance which occurs within religions. Intolerance and discrimination are not only practised between different religions. Indeed, many religious groups experience as many problems from those of the ‘same’ religion as from those of ‘other’ religions. The implication that religious intolerance and discrimination are only practised by ‘outsiders’ is not only wrong but misleading, and dangerously so, in that it indeed helps to propagate the attitude that what is happening is a clash of religions or beliefs, rather than the continuation of misconceived attitudes which identify others by certain characteristics (real or imagined) and deems it acceptable to treat them differently when the possession of these supposed characteristics is actually irrelevant, whether or not also untrue. The fact that three ‘religions’ are listed also underplays the importance of freedom of belief, which is equallyprotected by the international standards.
The above-named non-governmental organisations therefore, call on the UN Commission on Human Rights to:
- Reflect on how the question of freedom of religion or belief can be appliedconsistently and absolutely without discrimination as intended, including inviting input from the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief;
- Avoid categorisations which may encourage the idea of a clash of religions by underplaying the intolerance and discrimination which occur within religions;
- Adopt a resolution which
- promotes non-discrimination and tolerance in relation to all religions and beliefs, rather than singling out only a few;
- considers that “religious intolerance” may be as much about race or xenophobia as about religion per se and explore ways in which to address this;
- Consider renaming the resolution as a resolution on ‘Freedom of Religion or Belief’ in line with the current title of the Special Rapporteur, and with a view to encouraging a more positive approach.