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Opening remarks by the President of the UN Human Rights Council at the side event Freedom of religion or belief for all? Geneva, 6 March 2013

Excellencies,
Distinguish speakers,
Ladies and gentlemen,

At the outset let me thank the EU Delegation for organising this side event and amb. Zappia for having invited me to deliver the opening remarks.

I’m also happy to see such excellent speakers in the room like Ms Izsak, Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Mr. Lattimer, Executive Director of Minority Group, and Mr Bielefeldt, the Special Rapporteur of Religion or Belief.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Freedom of religion or belief is one of the fundamental human rights. It includes freedom to adopt or change a religion or belief, as well freedom to manifest religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

And yet, in various parts of the world persons belonging to different religious communities are denied this very basic freedom. They continue facing discrimination, harassment and sometimes extreme violence only because of their religion or belief.

This is why I find this side event entitled “Freedom of religion of belief for all?” with the thought provoking question mark at the end, very timely and important.

Now, allow me to make a few remarks.

First, freedom of religion or belief can’t be fully exercised without observance of other freedoms and rights. It is particularly closely linked with the freedom of opinion and expression. If one cannot freely express her/his views/opinions, it means that one cannot preach freely her/his religion. Moreover, freedom of opinion and expression is essential for creating the environment of tolerance conducive for enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief.

It is equally closely linked to freedom of association and assembly which is crucial for ensuring freedom to manifest one’s religion individually or in community.

Second, freedom of religion or belief is one of the conditions sine qua non of peace and development. The religious intolerance manifested by persecution of minorities is often a root cause of many conflicts. It ignites violence and undermines the security. As a result, it creates an unstable social environment which hampers the development affecting negatively social and economic rights.

And finally, as non-discrimination is a fundamental principle of international human rights any kind of discriminatory treatment of persons belonging to religious minorities can’t be justified and runs against the international law. The rights of person cannot be dependent on his or her religion or belief.

Excellencies,
Distinguish speakers
Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me conclude by quoting John Paul II, who was one of the staunchest advocates of the freedom of religion:

 “Religious freedom, an essential requirement of the dignity of every person, is a cornerstone of the structure of human rights and for this reason, an irreplaceable factor in the good of individuals and of the whole society.”

Thank you.