- Widespread calls at the UN’s Universal Periodic Review to better protect freedom of religion around the world
- States face international scrutiny for human rights situation of religious minorities
GENEVA (3 February 2021) – Which human rights are most threatened worldwide? For those following developments at the UN’s Human Rights Council during the past weeks, freedom of religion and belief was highlighted by many governments as being particularly at risk. Countries involved in the 37th “peer-review”-styled session of the Universal Periodic Review raised alarm about the safety and rights of people of faith in parts of the world where persecution is rife.
“Nobody should be persecuted because of their beliefs. However, across the world, minority peoples of faith or of no faith continue to suffer extreme violence, hostility and punishment, including under draconian blasphemy and defamation-of-religion laws. We were pleased to see that during this session, many governments used their voice to highlight the plight of these minorities, and call for better protection for the right of everyone to live out their beliefs. Still, more work must be done to translate commitments into action. It is vital that the Human Rights Council uses its influence to uphold the dignity and rights of the vulnerable,” said Giorgio Mazzoli, ADF International’s Legal Officer at the United Nations in Geneva.
Myanmar was one of fourteen States to undergo the review process, and faced particular criticism for the unprecedented levels of persecution faced by their minority communities. Over thirty governments individually called for the protection and equal treatment of religious minorities, including Muslim and Christian, notably by repealing discriminatory laws on citizenship, conversion, and marriage. The situation now threatens to deteriorate further following the military coup.
Meanwhile, the delegations of Norway, the Netherlands and Haiti all called upon Nepal to ensure that all people can freely choose, change and live out their faith.
Even Austria found itself under scrutiny, with countries demanding that it “protect those who face persecution because of their religious beliefs”. This comes amidst challenges faced by asylum seekers in Europe, who are sometimes deported despite an imminent threat to their lives in their home countries because of their religious beliefs.
Intergovernmental focus comes at time of urgent need
The focus placed on freedom of religion and belief was echoed by members of civil society, who also took part in the review process. Human rights organisation ADF Internationalcalled on several States to ensure that individuals from all religious communities can live out their faith in public and in private, in community with others, and without fear for their lives or livelihood.
Over the coming months, the States which underwent review will provide responses to the recommendations they received and, if they wish, politically commit themselves to implementing them.
Current concerns over the rights, freedoms and safety of religious communities come amidst reports of severe hostility. According to the newly-released World Watch List by Open Doors, 1 in 8 Christians worldwide experience high levels of persecution. Find out more about what ADF International is doing to #EndPersecutionNow.
“In some parts of the world, certain religious minorities are nearing extinction. The international community must act with urgency to end the grave and widespread human rights abuses being carried out against people for their religion or belief. We are pleased to see over thirty governments recognizing this at the Human Rights Council; but it is now up to the States under review to take the recommendations they have received seriously and take tangible action to uphold religious freedom for all people, in accordance with their international obligations,” said Kelsey Zorzi, ADF International’s Director of Advocacy for Global Religious Freedom.