GENEVA – On Friday 29 September, ADF International co-hosted an event launching the OSCE/ODIHR-Venice Commission Guidelines on the Legal Personality of Religious or Belief Communities at the United Nations during the 36th Session of the Human Rights Council. The event, which was co-sponsored by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Poland, focused on the critical importance of securing the right to manifest faith in community with fellow believers.
The OSCE/ODIHR-Venice Commission Guidelines provide minimum standards for counties to develop laws that defend the right for religious or belief organisations to function independently of arbitrary State interference. The Guidelines have featured in judgments of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, and they seek to ensure that everyone can enjoy freedom of religion or belief in a meaningful and effective manner.
“Restrictions on legal personality of religious or belief communities are not the stuff of headlines, but they have real world effects that potentially touch on all aspects of a community’s functioning. They strike at the very heart of the life of a religious or belief community and jeopardize their vitality, visibility and viability,” said Dr. Kishan Manocha, ODIHR Senior Adviser on Freedom of Religion or Belief, who moderated the meeting.
Labelling religion as extremism
The event also focused on the practice of mandatory registration and the threat it poses to religious freedom.
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“Religious freedom is a fundamental human right and nobody should be persecuted because of their peaceful religious beliefs. Obstacles to the availability of legal personality will mean that religious communities face huge difficulty in securing venues for public meetings. They cannot train or employ staff or lawfully raise or administer essential revenue. Unless faith-based communities can act within the national legal framework, the freedom to manifest faith in fellowship with other believers is illusory. Guaranteeing legal personality for religious organisations is an essential part of securing freedom of religion for all,” said Laurence Wilkinson, Legal Counsel for ADF International.