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Moldova: Government leadership needed to foster a public culture of diversity – UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion

CHISINAU (9 September 2011) – From 1 to 8 September 2011, Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, undertook a country visit to the Republic of Moldova, including its Transnistrian region. The purpose of this visit was to identify good practices, as well as existing or emerging obstacles to the full enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief.

Discussing the preliminary conclusions of the mission, Special Rapporteur Bielefeldt stated: “Noteworthy progress has been made generally in the field of human rights in Moldova, including in the area of freedom of religion or belief. Recalling the harsh repression and persecution during the Soviet era, members of religious communities with whom I spoke appreciated that today they can generally practice their religion or belief freely and without fear of undue Government interference.”

“However, I was particularly struck by obstacles deriving mainly from the overly predominant position of the Orthodox Church, which enjoys a privileged status at variance with the Constitutional guarantee of a secular state. Moreover, important sectors of society see Orthodox Christianity, in particular the Orthodox Church of Moldova, as constituting the backbone of national identity. Some groups go as far as to explicitly demand, often in an aggressive fashion, to put followers of other denominations – such as Protestants, Jews and especially Muslims – in a marginalized position. Although these extremist groups seem to account only for a small minority, they apparently are not met with much criticism from within the Church, thus leading to the perception that they somehow speak on behalf of the country's Orthodox believers in general, as well as with the tacit approval of the Church authorities.”

“With a view to further improve the conditions for a non-discriminatory enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief, what seems to be needed, above all, is a public culture of appreciating diversity. I would like to encourage the Government to take leadership in this regard, for instance, by issuing a robust anti-discrimination law, by facilitating interreligious communication, by investing in civic education and by speaking out clearly against incitement to religious hatred.”

“With regard to religious instruction, I appreciate its voluntary nature as specified in the law and clarified by the Government. Strong and effective mechanisms must be developed to protect children who opt out of religious education from any form of negative pressure, be it from school authorities, church officials, other children, or any other party.”

“I have experienced many expressions of good will and positive examples of professional commitment which give good reason to see the prospects of human rights in this country in an optimistic light.”

Special Rapporteur Bielefeldt’s mission will result in a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, to be presented in March 2012, including recommendations for strengthening the effective exercise of freedom of religion or belief in the Republic of Moldova.

The full text of the Special Rapporteur’s press statement with a summary of his preliminary observations on the situation of freedom of religion or belief in the Republic of Moldova is available online at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=11354&LangID=E

Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt is Professor of Human Rights and Human Rights Politics at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany. He was appointed by the Human Rights Council to the mandate of Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, effective since 1 August 2010. The mandate was created in 1986 by the then Commission on Human Rights, and was renewed most recently in 2010 by the Human Rights Council for a three-year period.

An e-Digest on Freedom of Religion or Belief which summarizes 25 years of thought by four UN Special Rapporteurs is available online at: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10832&LangID=E

Background Information on the Mandate of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

On 1 August 2010, Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt assumed his mandate as Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. The Human Rights Council in its resolution 6/37 invited the mandate holder:

  • To promote the adoption of measures at the national, regional and international levels to ensure the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief;
  • To identify existing and emerging obstacles to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief and present recommendations on ways and means to overcome such obstacles;
  • To continue her/his efforts to examine incidents and governmental actions that are incompatible with the provisions of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief and to recommend remedial measures as appropriate;
  • To continue to apply a gender perspective, inter alia, through the identification of gender-specific abuses, in the reporting process, including in information collection and in recommendations.

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomReligion/Pages/FreedomReligionIndex.aspx

OHCHR Country Page – Republic of Moldova: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/ENACARegion/Pages/MDIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact:

Ms. Nathalie Rondeux, Human Rights Officer, UN High Commissionner for Human Rights, Tel.: +41 22 917 9251, e-mail: nrondeux@ohchr.org
Mr. Claude Cahn, Human Rights Adviser, UN Moldova, Tel.: +373 68 57 51 55, ccahn@ohchr.org
Ms. Ludmila Tiganu, Communications Specialist, United Nations Moldova, Tel. 22 00 45, email : ludmila.tiganu@undp.org

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