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Human Rights Council starts interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief

MORNING

10 March 2015

Concludes Clustered Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteurs on Torture and on Human Rights Defenders

The Human Rights Council today started its interactive dialogue with Heiner Bielefeldt, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. It also concluded its clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan Méndez, and with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst.

Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said he had focused on the issue of violence committed in the name of religion. Violence committed in the name of religion could take different shapes. While in some countries armed terrorist groups invoked religion to justify atrocities, such as mass executions, torture, arbitrary killings, gang rapes, enslavement and mass expulsion, in other countries religious vigilante groups harassed minorities by vandalizing cemeteries, destroying property and threatening physical attacks. Governments had the overarching responsibility to combat violence committed in the name of religion. Governments had to provide an open, inclusive framework in which religious diversity could unfold without discrimination and without fear.

Kazakhstan and Viet Nam spoke as concerned countries.

In the interactive dialogue on freedom of religion or belief, speakers said a general understanding of the global context in which violence committed in the name of religion occurred was a prerequisite. Delegations highlighted the complex relationship between freedom of expression and freedom of religion. Peaceful coexistence of religions had to be based on respect for equality and non-discrimination. Social exclusion, extreme poverty and loss of trust in authorities were all problems to be overcome in order to combat violence in the name of religion. The most dangerous form of such violence was terrorism. It was therefore crucial to combat the existence of extremist religious ideologies, and to condemn those States which provided them with financial and logistical support.

Speaking during the interactive dialogue on freedom of religion or belief were Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, European Union, Council of Europe, China, Brazil, Denmark, Belgium, Sudan, Qatar, Syria, Austria, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Cuba, Australia, Iran, Egypt, Netherlands, Cyprus, Ukraine, Albania, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Indonesia.

The Council will continue the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief on Wednesday, 11 March in the morning.

Venezuela, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Cuba and Sudan spoke in right of reply.

At the beginning of the day, the Council concluded its clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan Méndez, and with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst. The interactive dialogue started on Monday, 9 March in the afternoon, and the summary can be found here.

In the interactive dialogue on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, speakers asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on concrete mechanisms that could be envisaged to reduce the vulnerability of children in detention to human rights violations. They underlined that torture and human rights violations often resulted from systems of justice that did not integrate a human rights perspective or the minimal international standards, in particular with respect to children. Children in detention were particularly vulnerable to a heightened risk of torture and ill treatment. Delegations therefore strongly supported recommendations regarding international legal commitments to prohibit the use of the death penalty and corporal punishment against children, and to limit as much possible the use of deprivation of liberty for children.

In the interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights defenders, speakers highlighted the importance of the protection of human rights defenders, adding that it was their firm belief that the participation of civil society in the work of the Human Rights Council was essential. They stressed that it was necessary to deal with reprisals against human rights defenders, and asked the Special Rapporteur to make adequate recommendations. A large number of Governments ignored such violations, and the Special Rapporteur was asked to suggest improvements in that respect. Some delegations noted that efforts must be made to find consensus on the definition of human rights defenders, and the definition of circumstances under which they conducted their work. Governments should be encouraged to improve such definitions and adopt relevant terminology and language.

Speaking during the interactive dialogue on torture and human rights defenders were: China, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Egypt, Georgia, Uruguay, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Tunisia, Italy, Switzerland, Iraq, Indonesia, Russian Federation, Viet Nam, Greece, Chile, Cuba, United States, Botswana, Council of Europe, Honduras, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Angola, United Kingdom, Palestine, Iran and France. United Nations Children’s Fund also spoke.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: International Service for Human Rights, Conectas Direitos Humanos, France Liberte – Fondation Danielle Mitterrand, Amnesty International, Association for the Prevention of Torture, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project Social Service Agency of the Protestant Church in Germany, Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture, Human Rights House Foundation, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Action Canada for Population and Development, Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparency, Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, Penal International, and Liberation.

The Human Rights Council will next hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, followed by its annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities.

Remarks by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

MICHEL FORST, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, responding to the first round of questions raised by delegations on Monday, said that the mechanism of joint missions and actions was under discussion with the African Union and other regional organizations. He stressed that follow-up of the monitoring was the very core of his mandate, and to that end he was conducting discussions with universities in Switzerland, United States and Germany, in order to be able to assess whether that mechanism was useful. He also worked on extending and innovating the communications system of the mandate. As for the situation of human rights defenders in conflict areas, he had met several of them during regional consultations. That topic was important, and there was a need to examine available funds. The Netherlands’ practice of sheltering human rights defenders was useful, and all States were called upon to take up that practice and example. In the next report of the Special Rapporteur, there would be a specific section on recommendations to civil society and human rights defenders. Referring to Norway’s plea for more visibility and presence of the mandate in the field, Mr. Forst said he hoped to carry out several short follow-up visits in the field.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteurs on Torture and on Human Rights Defenders

China was always opposed to torture and had been diligently implementing the provisions of the Convention against Torture, to stop torture at the source. The protection of human rights in the country would be further enhanced through a series of measures aimed at strengthening the judicial system and the professionalism of the legal profession. China said that, when participating in the work of the United Nations, certain non-governmental organizations violated rules of procedures and the question was how to ensure their participation in accordance with the rules.

Germany underlined that the contribution of civil society was essential to the work of the Human Rights Council and the United Nations, and stressed the importance of its expertise and personal experience of human rights defenders on the ground. Intimidation of civil society organizations would not be tolerated, said Germany and encouraged the Special Rapporteur to implement his priorities, including by combatting impunity and creating a favourable environment for the work of human rights defenders.

Czech Republic was concerned about the low rate of adequate responses provided by States to urgent calls and letters of appeal by the Special Rapporteur and supported the call for more effective protection of human rights defenders at risk. What tools should the international community use when even the improved follow-up to the communication failed to produce results? The Czech Republic stressed the crucial importance of the State in the protection of children deprived of liberty and asked the Special Rapporteur on torture about examples of good practice in this area.

Hungary said it was committed to the protection of human rights defenders, adding that it was their firm belief that the participation of civil society in the work of the Human Rights Council was essential. It appealed to Member States to support resolution 24/24, adopted in September 2013 by the Council. It was necessary to deal with reprisals against human rights defenders, and Hungary asked the Special Rapporteur to make adequate recommendations. It reminded that a large number of Governments ignored such violations, and asked the Special Rapporteur to suggest improvements.

Egypt expressed regret that the report of the Special Rapporteur on torture was released less than two working days before the interactive dialogue and was not translated. It expressed support for the discussion concerning the substantive and procedural safeguards that allowed for better protection of children. The report did not highlight administrative detention of children by occupation forces, or detention by terrorist organizations.

Georgia said it looked forward to the visit by the Special Rapporteur on torture, and welcomed his efforts to assess the situation in the occupied territories of Georgia. The top priority in Georgia was reform of the criminal justice system, including juvenile justice. Current policies aimed to liberalize criminal law and practice, and their aim shifted to prevention, early intervention and rehabilitation. A number of preventive programmes had been implemented, and substantive attention was paid to ensure the reintegration of juveniles.

Uruguay said that the role of human rights defenders was essential and required the establishment of a safe and conducive environment for their work and protection. States should take all necessary measures to avoid and prevent acts of violence, said Uruguay and expressed concern about acts of reprisals against those who sought to cooperate with the United Nations. Uruguay attached great importance to the implementation of recommendations provided by the Special Rapporteur on torture during his country visits and would provide more information at a later stage.

Democratic People's Republic of Korea said that torture could never be justified under any circumstances and expressed shock by the revelation of acts of torture committed by the Central Intelligence Agency in the fight against terrorism, sanctioned by official approval. The Human Rights Council should address the United States torture crimes as a matter of urgency and establish a commission of inquiry; failure to do so would indicate selectivity and double standards and undermine the credibility of the Council.

Tunisia noted the intention of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders to attach greater attention to the issue of reprisals and to increase his field presence and cooperation with regional bodies. Tunisia said it would continue to cooperate with this mandate to improve the situation of human rights defenders, to strongly condemn all acts of reprisals against them, and to work on the implementation of Human Rights Council resolution 24/24.

Italy said the role of human rights defenders was important in voicing the concerns of the most vulnerable people. They should thus be adequately protected and those who threatened them had to be properly prosecuted. Italy asked the Special Rapporteur to consider whether female human rights defenders faced particular forms of discrimination or specific threats. As for children deprived of liberty, it was stressed that they were particularly vulnerable in conflict situations.

Switzerland said that it was imperative that the rights of children were protected, particularly when they were deprived of liberty. Handing down life sentences to children was not acceptable. It was also unacceptable that children deprived of liberty were sentenced to corporal punishment, and Switzerland asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on that topic. It shared the Rapporteur’s idea of working with other mandates, and asked the Rapporteur to elaborate on how regional mechanisms could be used.

Iraq said that torture was an inhuman practice and a flagrant violation of human rights. In Iraq large parts of the population were suffering various forms of torture and cruel punishment at the hands of terrorist organizations. Since 2003 the Iraqi Government had adopted legal measures to prevent all forms of torture, both physical and psychological. Despite the terrorist threat and many other challenges, the Government was committed to the prevention of torture.

Indonesia agreed that higher standards must be applied to detention and deprivation of liberty of children and asked about the role of alternative sentencing in the prevention of torture against children. Constructive dialogue and cooperation with human rights defenders must be in accordance with the United Nations Charter and Code of Conduct of Special Procedures, and naming and shaming must be avoided.

Russia noted that the work plan presented by Mr. Forst revealed the intention to strengthen monitoring aspects of the mandate and reminded the Council that the main task of the Special Procedures was not investigative or prosecutorial. Russia was concerned about various categorizations of human rights defenders and said that the recommendations by the Special Rapporteur went far beyond his mandate. What action was being taken to support the human rights monitoring mission to Ukraine and respond to its finding, including on torture?

Viet Nam believed that Mr. Forst’s work and the implementation of his work plan would be successful only through dialogue and cooperation with States, who bore the primary responsibility for the protection of human rights defenders. Viet Nam appreciated the recognition of the importance of communications as an essential tool for the work of the mandate and believed that verifiability, reliability and credibility of information used in this engagement played a key role in allowing the Special Rapporteur to fulfil his mandate appropriately.

Greece said the two mandates were related because in real life human rights defenders were subjected to torture, or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and such cases should be investigated. It asked the Special Rapporteur on torture to elaborate on concrete mechanisms that could be envisaged to reduce the vulnerability of children to human rights violations.

Chile underlined that torture and human rights violations often resulted from systems of justice that did not integrate a human rights perspective or the minimal international standards, in particular with respect to children. It was noted that justice systems should provide a restorative component, and the Government of Chile was working to reform its juvenile justice system along those lines.

Cuba regretted the late publication of the reports and lack of translation of both documents. It urged that in future they be published sooner and on the website of the Human Rights Council. It highlighted the importance of addressing the deprivation of liberty of children. It was struck that the report of the Special Rapporteur on torture omitted explanations provided by States.

United States welcomed that the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders had decided to consider cross cutting issues in his report, such as freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and noted that he had not cited individual cases in his report. The United States however referred to specific cases of human rights defenders being detained or harassed in Egypt, Syria, Sudan, Swaziland, Venezuela, Cuba, Belarus and Azerbaijan, and asked for the Special Rapporteur’s consideration of those cases.

Council of Europe recommended that alternatives sanctions to detention be examined in order to address overcrowding. It welcomed that some States had created independent bodies to monitor and investigate use of force by the police, and urged other States to do the same. The Council of Europe also attached great importance to the protection of human rights defenders, and had undertaken common initiatives in that regard together with other international and regional organizations, which sought to combat impunity.

Botswana welcomed the Special Rapporteur on torture’s focus on children deprived of their liberty, and agreed that judicial systems had to be child-friendly and include a rehabilitation dimension. Botswana underlined that the death penalty should not be implemented for juvenile offenders. Botswana disapproved of acts of reprisal and intimidation against human rights defenders cooperating with the United Nations, and stressed that human rights defenders had to work in the framework of national laws.

Honduras welcomed the focus on children deprived of liberty in the report by Mr. Méndez. Honduras particularly appreciated the focus on unaccompanied migrant children, who were frequently put in detention centres without being informed about their rights and were not provided with legal counsel. Such measures were not essential to ensure the presence of the children in the immigration procedures and were not in the best interest of the child.

Saudi Arabia said that the Human Rights Commission had been established in Saudi Arabia to amend a number of laws, while the judiciary was based on the principles of Sharia which ensured justice for all. The national justice system was completely independent and Saudi Arabia rejected attempts to interfere with its judicial procedures. The Special Rapporteur had recommended that foreign embassies in the country provide cash support to human rights defenders, and this was in clear violation with the principle of sovereignty.

Algeria said that the protection of children deprived of liberty began with judicial procedures which must be adapted to the needs of their age. Algeria stressed the need for a proper conduct of the work of mandate holders and said that stringent observance of the mandate was a must to facilitate constructive dialogue. Human rights defenders must be regarded as persons participating in the promotion and protection of human rights within the legal framework of the country where they were active.

Angola welcomed the Rapporteur’s cooperation with international and regional human rights mechanisms, especially the Special Rapporteur of the African Union. It asked for the increase of technical assistance and for the creation of synergies between relevant parties. Efforts must be made to find consensus on the definition of human rights defenders, and the definition of circumstances under which they conducted their work. Governments should be encouraged to improve such definitions and adopt relevant terminology and language.

United Kingdom highlighted three issues raised in the report on human rights defenders: impunity for attacks on human rights defenders; the focus on protection of groups at particular risk, such as women defenders; and the concern about the number of outstanding visit requests. It asked the Special Rapporteur to advise on the most effective means to combat legislation that criminalized the cooperation of human rights defenders with international mechanisms. It also asked the Special Rapporteur to share his views on torture and mistreatment of vulnerable groups.

UNICEF supported the findings of the report on multiple risks that children in detention faced, and a heightened risk of torture and ill treatment when they were deprived of liberty. It strongly supported the recommendations made in the report regarding the international legal commitments to prohibit the use of the death penalty and corporal punishment against children, and to limit as much possible the use of deprivation of liberty for children.

Costa Rica stressed the importance of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur against torture, and called on all States to cooperate with it. His thematic approach this year on children in detention was highly relevant, and States should implement its recommendations. Costa Rica underlined the importance of alternative sanctions and of training of professional staff dealing with children. Costa Rica also condemned acts of reprisals against human rights defenders.

Ukraine referred to credible allegations of acts of torture, some of which resulted in death, and arbitrary detentions perpetrated in the southeast of Ukraine by illegal armed groups supported by the Russian Federation. Ukraine referred also to the case of a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, Nadiya Savchenko, who had been illegally detained since July 2014. Ukraine invited the Special Rapporteur to take a close look at the situation in occupied Crimea and human rights violations against ethnic Ukrainians and Tatars there.

Venezuela denied the Special Rapporteur’s allegations that the death of protestors in the country was the result of disproportionate use of force. The protests had not been peaceful, and the very few allegations of unwarranted use of force by the police had been investigated. Venezuela guaranteed the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and reunion, and nobody would ever be threatened for using these rights.

Palestine said that the role of human rights defenders had been widely recognized over the past years, and they were at the same time increasingly becoming targets of attacks and their rights were being violated. Israel had frequently clamped down on human rights defenders, and the Special Rapporteur should address the issue of human rights defenders in situations of foreign occupation. Palestine called attention to the systematic ill treatment of children in detention and children deprived of liberty by Israel.

Iran said that the term human rights defender was yet to be defined more clearly and precisely to avoid its misuse; members of terrorist groups and lawbreakers who disturbed public order and violated basic rights of citizens could not be referred to as human rights defenders. Children migrants often faced inhumane conditions while detained and Iran stressed that the best interest of the child must be applied and must incorporate the component of adequate development and survival of the child.

France said that human rights defenders were amongst the lead players in the promotion and protection of human rights and their work was essential to establish and strengthen democracy. All States should guarantee a favourable environment for their activities. The inhumane practice of torture remained a reality for thousands of women and children deprived of liberty in Syria and elsewhere, or victims of barbaric terrorism. Juvenile justice must stress education and ensure that the detention of children was not a rule but rather an exception.

International Service for Human Rights raised concern about counter-terrorism measures used to criminalize human rights defenders. It asked the Special Rapporteur to share his view on how Governments could go beyond lip service and step up their efforts at implementing the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, as well as to elaborate on the role of non-State actors, including corporations, in contributing to the recognition and protection of defenders.

Conectas Direitos Humanos noted that the lack of specific data represented the main obstacles in Brazil to formulate consistent policies on torture. It reminded that torture was still used as a method of police investigation, even though it was absolutely prohibited. It remained ingrained in the Brazilian law enforcement culture: in 66 per cent of cases it was used as a means of obtaining confession or information. This situation should be taken into account in the upcoming visit to Brazil by the Special Rapporteur.

France Liberte – Fondation Danielle Mitterrand regretted that some States, despite recognition of their human rights on paper, nevertheless carried out systematic violations of fundamental human rights on the ground. For example, in Morocco human rights defenders and foreign journalists working in Western Sahara were prohibited from gaining access to that territory, and were subject to repression. The Special Rapporteur should gain access on an emergency basis to Western Sahara in order to assess the situation there.

Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture said that civil society and independent bodies’ monitoring of detention facilities could prevent abuses. Turning to the Special Rapporteur’s report on Mexico, Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture said that the culture of impunity remained a concern, and called on the authorities there to implement the conclusions in the report. On Tunisia, Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture called on the authorities to ensure investigations and prosecutions for cases of torture.

Human Rights House Foundation said States should ensure that human rights defenders could do their work. Azerbaijan was carrying out a crackdown on human rights defenders, as recognized by several United Nations Special Procedures. Azerbaijan should immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for expressing their opinion. Human Rights House Foundation expressed concerns about threats and legislation targeting human rights defenders in the Russian Federation and in Armenia.

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative said that the situations in Malaysia, Swaziland and Maldives illustrated the great challenges and threats faced by human rights defenders. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative said the situation in Sri Lanka called for special attention from both Special Rapporteurs, and said it was essential to monitor the situation closely in order to ensure independent, impartial, effective and thorough investigations to deliver justice to victims there.

Amnesty International agreed with the Special Rapporteur that torture and ill-treatment were widespread in Mexico and asked about the most effective measures to ensure the independence of Mexican forensic investigators vis-à-vis prosecutors. Amnesty International noted with great concern the prevalent and routine practice of torture, and the continuing fear of reprisals against human rights defenders and journalists in the Gambia, and asked what the Council could do to ensure that there would be no further reprisals against human rights defenders.

Association for the Prevention of Torture commended the advancement of new standards, including the prohibition of solitary confinement and use of restraints for juveniles deprived of their liberty and said that national preventive mechanisms, through their unrestricted access to all places of deprivation of liberty of children, were best placed to witness the reality of conditions and respect of those standards. The places they visited went beyond the criminal justice context and included social care homes, immigration centres, psychiatric initiations and others.

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development called for increased attention to violations of the rights of human rights defenders in Asia, such as in Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Philippines, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Myanmar. There should be provisions for the protection of human rights defenders in the national legal systems of those countries. It called on Asian Governments to respect international human rights norms, and to give a prominent place to the protection of human rights defenders in their legislation.

East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project thanked the Special Rapporteur for his attention to the risks and threats that were faced by human rights defenders in Burundi. It echoed his recommendations to the United Nations to provide human rights defenders with systematic support and protection. Any person who cooperated with the United Nations or international organizations, or who reported abuse or human rights violations, should be considered a defender.

Social Service Agency of the Protestant Church in Germany underlined the violence against human rights defenders working in Latin America and elsewhere on illegal mining activities and other corporate activities. It listed particular cases in Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Cambodia, Azerbaijan and Egypt. It highlighted the responsibility of States to hold accountable corporations that violated human rights.

Mexican Commission for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights agreed that torture was widespread in Mexico and was applied as an investigative tool in the war on drugs. Torture was going unpunished: of the 4,000 filed complaints between 2006 and 2014, only 11 had been investigated. One of the factors contributing to impunity was the lack of legal prohibition of torture and the lack of responsibility of civil or military chiefs for those acts.

Penal International expressed concern about the human rights effects of the death penalty, including the effects on groups and individuals not generally considered to be affected by capital punishment. In addition to children and relatives of those sentenced and killed, consideration should also be given to the lawyers who defended those facing a possible death sentence, the judges and juries, and the prison staff who oversaw prisoners awaiting execution and those who carried out the executions.

Liberation said that human rights defenders in Western Sahara suffered many obstacles in their work, and that Morocco was restricting the work of human rights organizations because they would work on the realization of the right to self-determination.

Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparency said human rights defenders in Bahrain faced restrictions of their rights, and were often silenced by being arbitrarily detained. It referred to the case of Nabeel Rajab, who was banned from travelling and faced constant harassment. Lasting peace in Bahrain relied on peaceful activists taking an active part in the political debate.

Action Canada for Population and Development was concerned about States using rhetoric like “protecting the integrity of the State and national security” to curb freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly. Action Canada for Population and Development highlighted the specific risks faced by defenders working on economic, social and cultural rights and minority rights, environmental defenders and defenders working on the rights of sexual minorities. It expressed concern at the global situation of women’s rights defenders.

Concluding Remarks

JUAN E MÉNDEZ, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, said that a global study by the High Commissioner would provide an important overview on best practices. He underlined the importance of monitoring juvenile detention centres, and avoiding the detention of children as much as possible. He stressed that restorative justice had to be focused on with regards to children. The Special Rapporteur endorsed the view that children under at least 12 should not be held accountable. In occupation contexts, children were protected by international humanitarian law, which applied to both States and non-State actors. The detention of migrant children served only to discourage immigration at the price of children’s rights. Prevention mechanisms were very important, but they should be independent and impartial and should not exclude the possibility for civil society monitoring.

MICHEL FORST, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, in his concluding remarks, apologized for the late publication of his report on communications and explained that it was due to technical reasons. He stressed that it was necessary to increase the response rate by States. Silence could not be considered as an answer, and he would send reminders to those States to see whether in the absence of the response it was possible to have dialogue with permanent representatives of those countries in Geneva. Responding to questions on how to deal with reprisals against human rights, he said it was one of the foci of his work, and they would be mentioned in special reports, along with how awareness on reprisals by the Governments could be raised. In countries where there was a United Nations peacekeeping operation, the United Nations could play a stronger role in protecting human rights defenders. Some individual country cases were already in the report, but others remained confidential. He said he intended to explore all the limits of his mandate, and perhaps push those limits, as well as reflect on how to make it more effective. In the next report, the Special Rapporteur intended to explore the link between corporations and human rights defenders, and the complicity of corporations in human rights violations.

Documentation

The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt (A/HRC/28/66)

The Council has before it an addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt - Mission to Kazakhstan (A/HRC/28/66/Add.1)

The Council has before it a second addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt - Mission to Viet Nam (A/HRC/28/66/Add.2)

The Council has before it a third addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt - Mission to the Republic of Kazakhstan: Comments by the State on the report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt (A/HRC/28/66/Add.3)

The Council has before it a fourth addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt - Mission to Viet Nam: Comments by the State on the report of the Special Rapporteur (A/HRC/28/66/Add.4)

Presentation by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said he had focused on the issue of violence committed in the name of religion in order to propose adequate categories for describing the factors and root causes in this area. Finding adequate categories would clarify the responsibility which different actors, including governments, religious communities, civil society organizations, media and others had in combating all forms of violence perpetrated in the name of religion. Violence committed in the name of religion could take different shapes. While in some countries armed terrorist groups invoked religion to justify atrocities, such as mass executions, torture, arbitrary killings, gang rapes, enslavement and mass expulsion, in other countries religious vigilante groups harassed minorities by vandalizing cemeteries, destroying property and threatening physical attacks. State involvement with violence committed in the name of religion showed a broad variety, ranging from lack of capacity and de-facto impunity to indirect or direct forms of complicity, sometimes even culminating in formal State endorsement and systematic orchestration of such violence. Acts of violence in the name of religion frequently targeted individuals or groups branded as “infidels”, “apostates”, “heretics” or “blasphemers”. The likelihood of violent attacks typically increased sharply when such “offences” were officially enshrined in criminal codes. Violence could also be directed against people who were suspected of undermining national cohesion by allegedly acting in the interest of “foreign powers” or “foreign donors”. This frequently happened where a particular religion was used as a medium to define national identity. Moreover, vigilante groups, possibly with support from law enforcement agencies, harassed people, in particular women, whose ways of life were deemed “immoral” from the standpoint of certain narrowly defined religious codes of conduct. Some religious leaders had also contributed to creating a homophobic climate in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons bore an increased risk of being physically attacked.

Violence in the name of religion should not be misperceived as a sort of “natural” outbreak of collective hatred supposedly originating from sectarian hostilities existing since time immemorial. The perpetrators of violent crimes were human beings – individuals, groups, community leaders, political party leaders, State representatives and others – who lived in the twenty-first century and who invoked religion for the purposes of legitimizing, stoking, spreading or escalating violence. Any specific incident of violence committed in the name of religion warranted a careful, contextualized analysis of all relevant factors, including the broader political environment in which such acts took place. This included difficult historic legacies of a country, a climate of political authoritarianism, social inequalities or caste hierarchies, ethnic fragmentation, rapid demographic changes, patriarchal values and the impact of a “macho” culture, migration processes, a widening gulf between urban and rural areas, the break-down of meaningful public discourse and lack of inter-group communication, endemic corruption and political cronyism, widespread disenchantment with politics, general loss of trust in public institutions, failing States and other issues. Governments had the overarching responsibility to combat violence committed in the name of religion. Based on respect for everyone’s freedom of religion or belief, Governments had to provide an open, inclusive framework in which religious diversity could unfold without discrimination and without fear. For this to be possible, they had to overcome any exclusivist settings, for example, the amalgamation of one particular religion (or type of religions) with national identity. Governments had to repeal restrictive legislation. They had to be the first to speak out quickly and clearly against any acts of violence committed in the name of religion, and take all available measures to bring perpetrators to justice.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Kazakhstan, speaking as a concerned country, said that there were more than 130 ethnic groups representing more than 18 different religions in Kazakhstan; any citizen was free to practice his or her religion and the Constitution provided for equality between all religions. Mandatory registration of religious organizations aimed at transparency in their activities and at protecting the society from religious extremism and intolerance. Missionary activities were allowed and both nationals and foreign citizens could engage in this work. Kazakhstan had been taking measures to prevent religious extremism and terrorism. Teaching of religions had been introduced into the education system in 2007 to develop religious tolerance among students, and law enforcement officers had received training in the right to freedom of religion.

Viet Nam, speaking as a concerned country, deeply regretted that the report failed to correctly present the real situation in Viet Nam. Today, around 95 per cent of the population practiced a religion or belief and the religious life was vibrant. Freedom of religion or belief was enshrined in the Constitution and protected by the laws; the Government was doing its best to facilitate religious practices while promoting unity, harmony, equality and non-discrimination. There were no cases of threat, harassment or reprisal against persons who had engaged with the Special Rapporteur during his visit. While there was room for further improvement, Viet Nam believed that efforts and achievements in the promotion of freedom of religion or belief should have been reflected in the report in an objective and comprehensive manner. Viet Nam was disappointed by the imbalanced and partial approach by the Special Rapporteur and was unable to support his recommendations.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, noted that various forms of violence carried out in the name of religion typically originated from contemporary factors and actors, including political circumstances. It agreed with the Special Rapporteur that any such acts of violence should be publicly condemned, and that every State had overarching obligations in that respect. Further strengthening of international cooperation was necessary in order to enhance States’ capacities and capabilities in the fight against such violence.

European Union said the report demonstrated the need for a general understanding of the global context in which violence committed in the name of religion occurred, as well as its root causes. Acts and threats of violence based on religious ideologies were worrisome, especially acts of terrorism. The European Union supported the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation that all relevant stakeholders publicly speak against such acts, and asked him what role States could play in achieving concerted actions that included all relevant stakeholders in discussions.

Council of Europe said it was deeply concerned by the human rights violations and discrimination committed in the name of religion. The relationship between the freedom of expression and the freedom of religion was complex, and it required reflection and action. In order to reconcile respect for different identities, smart and appropriate responses were needed, with emphasis on prevention. Peaceful coexistence of religions had to be based on the respect for equality and non-discrimination.

China stated that the delegation agreed with the report of the Special Rapporteur. China was committed to the construction of a harmonious society. Harmony was one of the core values of Chinese society. China advocated religious tolerance by actively promoting harmony. It was opposed to all acts of violence or intolerance based on religion.

Brazil appreciated the Special Rapporteur’s emphasis on the need to identify factors underling violence. Political circumstances were considered of utmost importance in this respect. Narrow minded and polarized interpretations of religious messages led to acts of violence committed in the name of religion. Historical, political and social contexts of countries were important and could also influence this climate. Social exclusion, extreme poverty, and loss of trust in authorities were all problems to be overcome in order to combat violence in the name of religion.

Denmark had been hit by a terrorist attack committed in the name of religion one month ago. This terrifying act, however, had led to a strong manifestation of unity and solidarity, in which people from all religions and walks of life had spontaneously put flowers in front of the two buildings where the shootings had taken place. With regards to the recommendation by the Special Rapporteur for countries to repeal anti-blasphemy laws, the Danish Government had decided to maintain the Danish penal code with an anti-blasphemy law, as it was considered legally important, even though in practice it had not been invoked in court since the 1970s.

Belgium was concerned about acts of intolerance and violence committed in the name of religion and had in place a legislative arsenal to fight incitement to hatred on the basis of religion. Belgium was further expanding that arsenal to respond to the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters, in accordance with human rights standards. Belgium did not have blasphemy laws and called on all States who still had them to abolish such laws and the death penalty.

Sudan was a majority Muslim country, and had Christian minorities and other religious minorities; their religious rights and rights to nationality were guaranteed by the Constitution. Sudan condemned all forms of violence based on religion and said that violence had nothing to do with religion.

Qatar stressed that religion-based violence had nothing to do with religion and called on the Special Rapporteur to address its root causes in his next report; this was particularly important given the spread of religious extremism in the region. Qatar had strengthened the human rights structure in the country, its Constitution guaranteed freedom of religion, and it had established the Doha Centre to promote dialogue and peaceful coexistence between faiths and dialogue among religions.

Syria supported the report, which spoke about the complexity of violence committed in the name of religion. The most dangerous form of such violence was terrorism. It was therefore crucial to combat the existence of extremist religious ideologies, and to condemn those States that provided them with financial and logistical support. Finally, it was necessary to be very careful with the application of the responsibility to protect doctrine, which was abused by certain States.

Austria agreed with the observation of the Special Rapporteur that religion was almost never an isolated case of conflict. Rather than talking about religious violence, it was more accurate to refer to violence committed in the name of religion. Austria fully supported the potential of intercultural and interreligious dialogue for overcoming violence in the name of religion. It asked the Special Rapporteur to provide examples of the overarching obligation of the State to respect and promote human rights.

Saudi Arabia said it supported the Special Rapporteur’s observation that violence could not be attributed to any particular religion. As for the urgent condemnation of the violence committed in the name of Islam, the King of Saudi Arabia had earlier done so, and the Special Rapporteur should be guided by the King’s speech. One should not be linked to any particular religion, and the Special Rapporteur had gone beyond his mandate in that respect. Saudi Arabia refused his mention of securing the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community because that issue had nothing to do with the freedom of religion.

Sierra Leone agreed that because it was a human right, the freedom of religion or belief protected human beings rather than the religions themselves. Human rights violations committed by non-State actors had escalated and led to the death of thousands, the displacement of entire communities and perpetuated a climate of fear. This would only end when causes of religious intolerance were identified; each State should examine its own situation and take steps to address them.

Cuba stressed the need to take into account root causes of religious violence and said that in addition to political circumstances, other factors must be considered, such as economic conditions, poverty, literacy and political manipulation by foreign powers. It was important that the media avoided the diffusion of false information and in this sense there was a need for governance of the Internet that would reflect religious diversity and promote a culture of peace.

Australia agreed with the characterization of violence committed in the name of religion as a complex phenomenon and acknowledged the role that the media could play in fuelling and defusing hate, intolerance and radicalization. It was vital for the Human Rights Council to maintain focus on those issues and Australia asked the Special Rapporteur how States could encourage private media outlets to portray positive images, particularly in the face of violence.

Iran said that open assault on religious values, especially Islamic values, had become the order of the day. That dangerous phenomenon posed a serious threat to international peace and security. Efficient tackling of that threat necessitated peaceful inter-state and inter-people relations and requisite resources by everyone. It was necessary to undertake a deeper assessment to find and fight against the root causes of violence in the name of religion.

Egypt said it had expected that the report would give more consideration to the fact that acts of violence could not be attributed solely to religion. The report got away from the questions on freedom of expression and freedom of religion, and the link with the questions of peace and security. The report did not refer to insults to religion or incitement to religious hatred, which led to violence.

Netherlands said that freedom of religion and belief was one of the priorities of the Netherlands’ human rights policy. The responsibility of States to protect all people living within a State’s territory was stressed. The Special Rapporteur was asked to elaborate on what could be done to reduce the risk of religiously inspired attacks, and what could be done when non-State actors violated human rights.

Cyprus thanked the Special Rapporteur for his active engagement in the inter-religious dialogue in Cyprus, which attached particularly importance to the right to freedom of religion or belief. This right was crucial for every human being who should be able to exercise this right freely. Cyprus strongly condemned the crimes committed in Paris and those by Da’esh in the Middle East, particularly against Christian populations who faced brutal persecution.

Ukraine said that in Crimea limitations were imposed on the freedom of religion or belief due to restrictive registration requirements of the forcefully imposed Russian laws. The overall situation alongside with police raids on places of worship seriously questioned the commitment of the so-called “authorities” in Crimea to the protection of freedom of religion or belief. How could human rights mechanisms be involved in addressing this situation?

Response by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

HEINER BIELEFELDT, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, in his responses to questions raised by the delegations in the interactive dialogue, said to Viet Nam that the issue of reprisals must be taken seriously; otherwise, the whole United Nations human rights system would be undermined. Several delegations said that acts of violence and terrorism had nothing to do with religion; the Special Rapporteur did not endorse this view because there was a link, and the violence was being committed in the name of religion. That was why religious communities had the responsibility to come up with profound religious responses to this violence. The responsibility of Governments was trust building and avoiding fractioning of societies and creation of fear and apocalyptic messages that some groups of the society felt. Investigative journalism had a trust-building function as well. The best measure to build resilience was to be prepared for crisis situations and build communication channels.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

Albania appreciated the Special Rapporteur’s delineation of typologies of violence in the name of religion, and his analysis of factors that instigated such acts. It agreed that overcoming such violence required comprehensive understanding of all the variables affecting that phenomenon. It also agreed that anti-blasphemy laws often strengthened the culture of silence, further empowering intolerance. States should repeal such laws.

Lao People’s Democratic Republic said that freedom of religion played an important role in harmonizing solidarity among people in the society. Only constructive and transparent dialogue could promote cooperation and understanding between States and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and in particular between the Special Rapporteur and the Human Rights Council.

Indonesia said the Government of Indonesia had actively engaged different religious communities and leaders in relevant discussions and dialogues. The Government was also actively involved in relevant international mechanisms. Whereas it was noted that it was important to investigate the root causes of violence committed in the name of religions, the Government asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on how to best address disrespectful behaviour towards religious followers in the name of freedom of expression.

Right of Reply

Venezuela, speaking in a right of reply, said that the United States had no moral standing to defend human rights or to criticise any country; it was enough to mention the practice of systematic torture, including worrying sophisticated practices of torture in interrogation centres run by the Central Intelligence Agency, or that some 80,000 persons remained in isolation in prisons in the United States, some of them for over 40 years, which could only be described as acts of torture.

Belarus, speaking in a right of reply in response to the statement of the United States, said the person that the United States had referred to had carried out mass disorders and had been arrested for organizing demonstrations and resisting arrest by police officers, which were criminal offences. In his trial, the court had stressed that democratic freedom must not undermine the rights of citizens, society and the State to security.

Azerbaijan, speaking in a right of reply, rejected information provided by a delegation earlier as incorrect and said that it was inappropriate to think that people in Azerbaijan were arrested for engaging with civil society. Azerbaijan was building a democratic society. If someone engaged in a criminal act, it made no difference whether or not they were a human rights defender. Making biased statements and demanding the release of sentenced persons undermined the judicial system of the country.

Cuba, speaking in a right of reply, criticized the representative of the United States for not having exercised any self-restraint in his statement. Cuba recalled that the United States had committed human rights violations against Occupy Wall Street movement protesters, Ferguson protesters, and that it was pursuing charges against Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. The United States was the only country in the world that still applied the death penalty to children without allowing them the right to appeal. It had no moral authority whatsoever to criticize others when it was evident that members of the Bush Administration had committed human rights violations.

Sudan, speaking in a right of reply in response to the statement made by the United States, explained that the mentioned persons had been brought to justice with respect to due process, and stressed that they were not human rights defenders. Freedom of expression was respected in Sudan and there were no infringements in that area. The United States should respect the right to development, instead of imposing economic sanctions on Sudan.

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For use of the information media; not an official record