Advocacy statements

FoRB and anti-rights actors at the UN

  • Date / 2022
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council


International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN Human Rights Council, 52nd session (27 February – 4 April 2023)

ID with Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

We extend a warm welcome to the new Special Rapporteur and we thank her for her report setting out her vision for her mandate.

We believe that the Special Rapporteur’s mandate remains essential to promoting a “human rights framing of freedom of religion or belief standards.” We are grateful to the rapporteur for reminding us all of the universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated nature of FoRB and related rights”.[1]

As she notes, while recent years have seen an increase both in actors and in foreign policy initiatives focused on the right to FoRB,[2] greater engagement with the right has not prevented it from being deliberately misused, mischaracterized and instrumentalized, often in order to serve a “politicized patriarchal agenda.”[3]

The right to freedom of religion or belief and ‘cultural rights’ have been used destructively, to undermine gender equality, sexual and reproductive health rights, bodily autonomy, access to comprehensive sexuality education, the right to sexual orientation and gender identity, freedom of expression, amongst other rights. This has been observed by UN experts and Rapporteurs.[4]

The incursion of anti-rights actors at the highest human rights institutions is a dangerous trend. Without vocal opposition, there is a risk that their intentional distortion of what FoRB protects will be entrenched and used to undermine equality for all.

In this light, we ask, what strategies, if any, can the Special Rapporteur  take to ensure the mainstreaming of a Human Rights based interpretation of FoRB within the UN and in other contexts?

I thank you.

[1] A/HRC/52/38, para. 18

[2] A/HRC/52/38, paras. 74-78.

[3] UN Human Rights Council (HRC), Report of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, 8 April 2016, A/HRC/32/44.

[4] UN Human Rights Council (HRC), Gender-based violence and discrimination in the name of religion or belief, 24 August 2020, A/HRC/43/48; UN Human Rights Council (HRC), Freedom of religion or belief, 5 March 2019, A/HRC/40/58;  UN Human Rights Council (HRC), Report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, 16 January 2017, A/HRC/34/56.

Suggested academic reference

'FoRB and anti-rights actors at the UN', Humanists International

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