Fighting for Freedom of Religion or Belief

Human Rights Council

13th session

Item 3: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief

11 March 2010

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Thank you Mr. President,

Franciscans International and Dominicans for Justice and Peace (Order of Preachers) would like to take this opportunity to thank the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief for her excellent six year tenure, where she has ensured the Council remains aware of the importance of ensuring everyone’s right to freely exercise their religion or belief.

We sincerely hope the Human Rights Council will elect a strong successor to continue to highlight the crucial role of this mandate.

We would like to concentrate on two points from her report:

First, we remain concerned at the increasing incidents of communal violence targeting religious minorities. In 2008 and 2009, we noted a number of violent events, also included in the Rapporteur’s communications to States, for example, in Gojra, Pakistan[1]. The existence of blasphemy laws has been found to propagate violence against religious minorities in this country, through unsubstantiated allegations that lead to human rights violations of minorities.

We similarly regret the very recent violent incidents which affected two communities in Jos, Nigeria.

The Human Rights Council must ensure that equal attention is given to such violent incidents, wherever they happen. We would welcome the Special Rapporteur’s additional recommendations on better ways to ensure the root causes of such violence are dealt with by States through regular monitoring—[in particular, when it is motivated by legislation that leads to discrimination in practice].

Second, the Special Rapporteur points out the contentious issue of religious education.[2] Religious education imparted in public schools and focusing on one particular religion associated with the State, must not undermine the diversity of religious minorities within a country. Non-discriminatory exemptions must be made, as the Rapporteur highlights[3], in a way that reflects equal attention to the religious needs of minority groups. We remain concerned at the recent inclusion of compulsory religious studies and an entire chapter dedicated to Religious Studies, which largely excludes religious minorities in Pakistan. Although the provision of ‘ethics’ as an alternative subject is meant to cater for all other religious groups, the education policy fails to take into account the needs of minority groups. [In reality, to avoid any discrimination, most students have no option but to take courses that cater to the majority population].

Treating the root causes of discrimination of religious minorities within schooling should receive greater attention. Good quality education should promote tolerance, mutual understanding and respect. Education should be used as an opportunity to tackle the root causes of discrimination from a very early age. Could the Special Rapporteur suggest further ways of ensuring States take into account the needs of all stakeholders, in an inclusive way[4], particularly in cases where States make religious studies compulsory through all levels of schooling?

Thank you.


[1] A/HRC/13/40/Add.1

[2] A/HRC/13/40

[3] A/HRC/13/40

[4] A/HRC/13/40, par. 63

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