In a ground-breaking occurrence at the UN Human Rights Council, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has been joined by a number of faith groups, as well as other humanist and secularist groups, to call on states to highlight more frequently the right to freedom of religion or belief when reviewing each others’ human rights records.
The statement, delivered by IHEU director of advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey, was joined by Alliance Defending Freedom, Baha’i International Community, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, European Humanist Federation, International Association for Religious Freedom, International Fellowship of Reconciliation, and supported by the National Secular Society (UK). Together we highlighted the urgent need “to recognise and promote freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief as a human rights concern globally” and called on UN member states to give the right to freedom of religion or belief the “frequent and comprehensive attention that it deserves.”
The joint statement comes after statistics show that only 2.5% of recommendations made as part of the UN’s process for states to be peer-reviewed on their human rights records relate to the right to freedom or thought, religion or belief.
The process, known at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), allows the human rights situation of all UN Member States to be reviewed every 5 years, with 42 States reviewed each year. In the first ten years of the UPR process, a total of 52,000 recommendations were made; however, only 1,280 recommendations – just under 2.5 per cent of the total – addressed the right to freedom of religion or belief.
After delivering the joint statement, O’Casey commented:
“I was pleased that a number of groups representing different belief and faith backgrounds were able to come together and highlight the importance of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief at the UN Human Rights Council.
“It is surprising and concerning, given the gravity and interconnected nature of the right to freedom of religion or belief, that only 2.5% of recommendations made during the UPR concerned the issue; and I wonder if there remains unnecessary sensitivities over this right that inhibit it being raised as often as it merits.
“I also feel that if we are genuine in wanting the right to freedom of religion or belief to be respected we must promote it for all, regardless of the religion or belief of those we are defending. As such, I am pleased that we have delivered a statement joined by a collection of faith and non-faith voices.”
The statement follows in full below:
JOINT ORAL STATEMENT
International Humanist and Ethical Union,
Alliance Defending Freedom, Baha’i International Community, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, European Humanist Federation, International Association for Religious Freedom, International Fellowship of Reconciliation
UN Human Rights Council, 36th Session (11 September – 29 September 2017)
General Debate on Item 6
The right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief is a foundational right. It is a right to be who you are, to be true to yourself and your conscience, to be free to have faith and think how you wish, including to change religion or to hold secular, political and philosophical convictions. It is a right that intersects with many other rights and is a prerequisite for upholding other fundamental rights and freedoms.
In his last report to the Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, pointed out that despite its importance, only 2.5% of total recommendations made during the first two cycles of the Universal Periodic Review concerned this right.
Today there is urgent need to recognise and promote freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief as a human rights concern globally. The widespread pushback against human rights has deepened the global crisis of the right to freedom of religion or belief. The ability of believers and non-believers to manifest their faith or convictions faces serious threats from State and non-State actors alike.
For most religion or belief groups that exist, cases of horrific persecution of them can be found somewhere in the world. Just a few examples include: Christians in Iraq, Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Bahá’ís in Iran, Shias in Bahrain, Falun Gong in China, Ahmadis in Pakistan, Humanists in Saudi Arabia, and Jews in Egypt.
All human rights are essential, and we do not wish to see fewer recommendations on other rights as part of the UPR process. But we urge states to give the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief the more frequent and comprehensive attention that it deserves.