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Freedom of religion: “Diversity must be reinforced in Lebanon by investing in common citizenship” – UN Expert

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BEIRUT (2 April 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, today praised Lebanon’s unique tradition of religious diversity, in particular in the Middle East region, and urged the Lebanese people to protect and preserve it.

“Diversity as well as freedom of religion or belief must be preserved and further developed in order to build resilience against the spiraling religious extremism in the Middle East region,” Mr. Bielefeldt said at the end of an official visit* to the country.

“In face of the challenging time, Lebanon could be the ray of hope in the region and beyond for as long as it preserves and promotes its legacy of religious diversity,” he noted.

The human rights expert emphasized that people in Lebanon have learned the importance of coexisting even under precarious conditions. In his view, other enabling factors include active interreligious dialogues or cooperation and Lebanese citizenship.

“Overcoming the political confessionalism is nonetheless important in order to live up to its aspiration to become a civil state based on rule of law,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“Disentangling the tightly knit web of religious loyalties, political affiliations, social positions and societal opportunities may then enhance the prospects of common citizenship,” the Special Rapporteur stressed.

“Even though equal power sharing on one hand maintains stable relationship among religious denominations, it may on the other hand weaken the civil structure and reinforce political fragmentation,” he further explained.

Mr. Bielefeldt noted that allowing civil marriage in Lebanon will be a test case in further strengthening diversity. “Mixed marriages are a reality in Lebanon and the absence of a civil marriage law may create problematic situations from the perspective of freedom of religion or belief and exacerbate discrimination against women,” he said.

“It is furthermore inevitable for the society, especially the younger generation to tackle complicated facts of recent history in Lebanon,” he added. “Without proper history teaching and memorialisation process, a climate of mistrust against each other between different religious communities may persist.”

During this eleven-day mission to Lebanon, Mr. Bielefeldt met with various government officials, representatives of religious or belief communities, including the refugees, civil society organizations and the UN.

The Special Rapporteur will present a report containing his conclusions and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in 2016.

(*) Check Mr. Bielefeldt’s full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15791&LangID=E

Heiner Bielefeldt (Germany) assumed his mandate as Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief in August 2010. 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. The Special Rapporteur’s research interests include various interdisciplinary facets of human rights theory and practice, with a focus on freedom of religion or belief. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomReligion/Pages/FreedomReligionIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Read the Special Rapporteur’s latest report: ‘Preventing violence committed in the name of religion’ (A/HRC/28/66): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session28/Pages/ListReports.aspx

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Lebanon: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/LBIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests please contact:
In Beirut, during the visit: Jessy Chahine (+961 1 962538 / jchahine@ohchr.org) or Chian Yew Lim (+41 79 752 0483 / clim@ohchr.org)
In Geneva, before and after the visit: Chian Yew Lim (+41 22 928 9310 / clim@ohchr.org) or 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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Check the Universal Human Rights Index: http://uhri.ohchr.org/en