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UN rights expert urges Kazakhstan to end mandatory registration of religious communities

ASTANA (4 April 2014) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Heiner Bielefeldt today called on the Government of Kazakhstan to end the mandatory registration of religious communities which has led to situations of legal insecurity affecting especially small groups.

“Religious pluralism is a hallmark of the Kazakhstan’s society traceable far back in history and perhaps even pre-history,” Mr. Bielefeldt said* at the end of the first visit to the country by an independent expert mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor freedom of religion or belief worldwide.

“Some of the people I talked to during my visit invoked specifically nomadic traditions of hospitality and open-mindedness when explaining the accommodation of different religious communities in Kazakhstan today,” he said.

However, the 2011 Law on Religious Associations requires all religious communities in Kazakhstan to obtain registration status in order to exercise collective religious functions.

“Those communities, which fail to meet the threshold set by the law or prefer not to be registered, live in legal insecurity which adversely affects their freedom of religion or belief,” he warned. “Freedom of religion or belief inherently belongs to all human beings and does not require State’s approval.”

Mr. Bielefeldt acknowledged the active role played by the Kazakhstani authorities in promoting peaceful interreligious coexistence in the country. He noted that the secular constitution receives general approval by the country’s population, and public demands to introduce a religious State remain very rare.

“In this context, I sometimes came across restrictive interpretation according to which secularism becomes a tool for confining manifestations of freedom of religion or belief to pre-defined territorial spaces,” Mr. Bielefeldt stated.

“An open discussion of the meaning and implications of secularism might also help to overcome restrictive attitudes within the administration and within law-enforcement agencies,” he recommended.

During his twelve-day visit, the human rights expert met with a wide range of relevant Government officials and agencies, as well as representatives of religious or belief communities and civil society organizations in Astana, Almaty and Karaganda.

Following his visit, the Special Rapporteur will present a report containing his conclusions and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in 2015.

(*) Read the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14468&LangID=E

Heiner Bielefeldt assumed his mandate as Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief in August 2010. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. Mr. Bielefeldt is Professor of Human Rights and Human Rights Politics at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg. From 2003 to 2009, he was Director of Germany’s National Human Rights Institution. His research interests include various interdisciplinary facets of human rights theory and practice, with a focus on freedom of religion or belief. Learn more, visit:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomReligion/Pages/FreedomReligionIndex.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page – Kazakhstan:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/ENACARegion/Pages/KZIndex.aspx
 
Download the “Rapporteur's Digest on Freedom of Religion or Belief”: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Religion/RapporteursDigestFreedomReligionBelief.pdf

Check the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/ReligionOrBelief.aspx

For more information and media requests please contact:
In Astana:
Leila Duisekova (+7 7172 69 65 50(-44), ext. 2293 / leila.duisekova@undp.org) or Sharof Azizov (sazizov@ohchr.org)
In Geneva:
Brenda Vukovic (bvukovic@ohchr.org / +41 22 917 96 35) write to freedomofreligion@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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