dcsimg


Header image for news printout

Human Rights Council holds dialogue with Special Rapporteurs on truth, justice and reparation and on freedom of religion

Human Rights Council

MORNING 

 7 March 2017

The Human Rights Council this morning held a clustered interactive dialogue with Pablo De Greiff, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, and with Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

Mr. De Greiff in his report detailed aspects of the role of victims which was noted in discussions of transitional justice.  The participation of victims had become “a sort of mantra” in the field, he said, underscoring that the international community could not claim to be taking seriously the issue of victim participation if the past was not studied.  He also gave details of his second report, which dealt with his mission to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.   

Mr. Shaheed presented his first report to the Human Rights Council, which contained his perspective on the key challenges facing the mandate.  The world was witnessing a global pushback on human rights which had a profound impact on the enjoyment of the fundamental right to freedom of religion or belief.  He was particularly alarmed by continuing reports of mass atrocity violence by both State and non-State actors.  He presented the report on the country mission to Denmark undertaken by his predecessor. 

The United Kingdom and Denmark spoke as concerned countries.  The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Danish Institute for Human Rights also took the floor.

During the ensuing discussion, delegations addressing the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence expressed support for the idea that transitional justice processes needed to have the rights and participation of victims at their heart, supporting measures to enhance the security and reintegration of victims.  The role of women was underscored by several delegations, who noted that women’s role in transitional justice was crucial, especially with regard to rehabilitation, reintegration and repatriation measures.  Some States noted that in testifying, victims might fear for their lives or might give testimony motivated by vengeance, asking the Special Rapporteur how objective the decision of truth and reconciliation commissions could be in that context.

Regarding the report by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, delegations asked the expert for examples of applicable initiatives States could engage in so as to better protect religious minorities around the world.  More than one delegation expressed concern specifically about the situation of religious minorities in Middle Eastern countries.  Others observed that the rise in populism, identity politics, and xenophobia in a number of regions had contributed to a public discourse on diversity that perpetuated a fear of “the other”, asking how the right of freedom of religion or belief intersected with other human rights, including rights related to protection from discrimination and hate speech.  Delegations also asked for examples of best practices by national human rights institutions in fostering freedom of religion or belief.

Speaking during the discussion were the European Union, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Holy See, Sierra Leone, France, Venezuela, Poland, Canada, United Kingdom, Israel, Croatia, Russian Federation, Switzerland, Australia, Netherlands, Belgium,  Ecuador, State of Palestine, China, Egypt, Libya, Colombia, Iran, Viet Nam, Peru, Austria, Sovereign Order of Malta, Argentina, Pakistan, Maldives, Indonesia, United States, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Turkey, Armenia, Iraq, Cyprus, Norway, International Committee of the Red Cross, Portugal, Togo, Ukraine, Tunisia, Bolivia, Albania, International Development Law Organization, Paraguay, Azerbaijan, Latvia, Uruguay, Italy, Sudan, Morocco and Ireland.   

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Article 19, International Humanist and Ethical Union, World Environment and Ethical Union, Alliance Defending Freedom, Association Miraisme International, VIVAT International, Commission to Study the Organization of Peace, Centre of Inquiry, Franciscans International, Jubilee Campaign, Asian Legal Resource Centre, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, Al-Khoei Foundation, Women’s Human Rights International Association, and Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain.  

The Council has a full day of meetings today.  At 1 p.m., it will hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict.

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence(A/HRC/34/62).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence - mission to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (A/HRC/34/62/Add.1).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence - comments by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (A/HRC/34/62/Add.2).

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief (A/HRC/34/50).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief – mission to Denmark (A/HRC/34/50/Add.1).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief – comments by Denmark (A/HRC/34/50/Add.2).

Presentation of Reports

PABLO DE GREIFF, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, presented his report, which he said would help to flesh out the reference to the role of victims which was noted in discussions on transitional justice.  The participation of victims had become “a sort of mantra” in the field, he said, underscoring that the international community could not claim to be taking seriously the issue of victim participation if the past was not studied.  Security conditions often did not allow for effective security provisions, which meant playing with the lives of people who had already been victimised.  There was a need to establish effective capacity-building programmes for all those involved in consultations and in participatory mechanisms, victims included.  There was, he observed, something paradoxical about participation: participatory methods elicited views about rights from those who did not think of themselves as rights-holders.  The report also attempted to shed some light on the reasons beneath the notion that participation and consultation were important.  Increased participation could have positive consequences for transitional processes, including broadening the range of adequate alternatives as ideas for redress that were put on the table.  Victim participation could also have other positive consequences, such as providing a measure of empowerment of victims.

Turning to his second report, Mr. de Greiff noted that it dealt with his mission to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland carried out in November 2015.   Since the adoption of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the United Kingdom had taken important measures to address the legacies of human rights violations and abuses committed during the 30 years of politically motivated violence that preceded the Agreement.  A standout feature of the Agreement was police reform, involving personnel renewal and the establishment of independent oversight mechanisms; this had led to a profound transformation in the perceived trustworthiness of the force.  The Agreement had been largely silent on how to deal with the legacy of the abuses.  Northern Ireland was in many respects an auspicious environment for addressing the past, he said, noting that it was part of a well-established democracy with strong institutions.  It also had a vibrant civil society.  However, there were some technical shortcomings, including that most efforts had been event-based rather than capturing the structural dimension of violations and abuses.  It was urgent to find a way to address what had become a major obstacle to progress, the appeal to the notion of “national security” in order to block access to relevant information.  It was equally urgent to pay more attention to the gender impact of the human rights violations and abuses.  Victims and others had been asked to wait long enough, he said, encouraging the Government of the United Kingdom to return to broad-ranging initiatives such as the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.  He reiterated his call to governments to respond to country visits requests in an expeditious manner.

AHMED SHAHEED, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, presented his first report to the Human Rights Council, which provided his perspective on the key challenges facing the mandate and sought support for an agenda focused on the implementation of State obligations related to the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief.  The world was witnessing a global pushback on human rights today, which had a profound impact on the enjoyment of the fundamental right to freedom of religion or belief.  Multiculturalism was being attacked from all sides – sometimes even in the name of religion, he said.  This had led to a re-examination of peoples’ core values in a number of regions around the globe.  Multiculturalism and diversity were once extolled as the basis of nurturing democracy, and fostering dignity, peace and security.  Now, they had become sources of contention and were increasingly being scapegoated by an underlying narrative of zero-sum trade-offs between societal harmony and diversity, pluralism and solidarity, security and human rights.  Legislation and policies which validated xenophobic notions and suspicion of others signalled a retreat from the principles of the Human Rights Council.

Mr. Shaheed said he was particularly alarmed by continuing reports of mass atrocity violence by both State and non-State actors that threatened the very existence of religious minority communities, including some that had existed for over two millennia.  Furthermore, reports about the rising persecution of individuals, including bloggers and public officials being intimidated, detained or mistreated for verbal or written expressions of critical thought or belief, were also becoming more prevalent and reminded everyone of the close nexus between freedom of religion or belief and other freedoms on which this right relied upon for its realization, including freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.  Policies adopted to enhance the capacity of security forces to combat terrorism by limiting fundamental rights often had dire consequences for the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief.  Hence, the dilemmas posed by securitization would require close scrutiny, he noted.  At the same time, there had been a wide range of misperceptions about what constituted the right to freedom of religion or belief.  Therefore, additional work needed to be done to further clarify the normative content of the right and to promote literacy regarding the content of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief as a human right, he added. 

Mr. Shaheed presented the report on the country mission to Denmark undertaken in March 2016 by his predecessor, Professor Heiner Bielefeldt.  The report, he said, reflected on many of the challenges facing an increasing number of countries that were bearing witness to swift changes in their religious landscapes as people immigrated at increasing rates.  The  report presented the Danish Government’s responses to pressures brought to bear by those changes, including strategies for combatting intolerance and incitement to hatred based on religion or belief; programmes for awareness-raising and the promotion of interreligious dialogue; and strategies for conflict prevention, he said, adding that the report also presented recommendations for further strengthening Denmark’s approaches to those issues.

Statements by Concerned Countries
 
United Kingdom, speaking as a concerned country, acknowledged the report of the Special Rapporteur on his mission to the United Kingdom.  The legacy of the past should be addressed, and consensus on the final details on the proposed mechanisms had not been agreed, but discussions were ongoing.  The Special Rapporteur was thanked for his constructive engagement.

Denmark, speaking as a concerned country, thanked the Special Rapporteur on freedom of belief and welcomed the overview in the report and his vision for his mandate.  Denmark welcomed the continued focus on gender-specific abuses of women and girls, and asked the Special Rapporteur to share good practices in addressing discrimination.  The cooperation of States was vital to advancing an agenda to promote freedom of religion or belief, and civil society had to be brought in as well.  Some of the most pernicious abuses of the right to freedom of religion or belief were carried out by non-State actors.  In that regard, Denmark asked if the Special Rapporteur had suggestions as to how governments and civil society organizations could address the root causes of violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief.

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission said the legacy of the past had cast a shadow on Northern Ireland.  Negotiations had not reached a resolution and the visit of the Special Rapporteur was a chance to reignite interest in the victims of the conflict in the Northern Ireland.  An investigation into deaths that occurred during the conflict and providing reparation for victims was needed. 

Danish Institute for Human Rights, said that the Special Rapporteur’s visit to Denmark had been very timely.  He highlighted the recommendation to abolish blasphemy laws and the concern that religious minorities were under increasing pressure in the country, as evidenced by a rise in hate crimes.

Interactive Dialogue

European Union said it agreed with the assessment of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence that transitional justice processes needed to have the rights and participation of victims at their heart and actively supported measures to enhance the security and reintegration of victims.  Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said that dispensing justice was a core tenet of Islam.  States had a responsibility to promote human rights and protect their peoples.  The international community needed to counter hate and defamatory speech as it threatened key freedoms.   Holy See said the global pushback on human rights had deepened the crisis on freedom of religion or belief.  Communities around the world were being denied this fundamental right and millions could not enjoy religious freedom.  Sierra Leone said the participation of women in all aspects of peacebuilding was vital to peace sustainability.  Women’s role in transitional justice was crucial, especially with regard to rehabilitation, reintegration and repatriation measures.

France noted that national reconciliation processes were crucial, and asked for guidance for supporting States in allowing civil society and victims to participate in processes concerning them.  Venezuela agreed on the importance of victims’ participation to achieve real justice, noting that such measures needed to take into account the needs of victims.  Regarding freedom of religion or belief, Venezuela guaranteed the freedom of religious faith.  Poland asked the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief for applicable initiatives that States could engage in so as to better protect religious minorities around the world, further asking him how he perceived the situation of Christian minorities in Middle Eastern countries as well as in Africa.  Canada said the rise in populism, identity politics, and xenophobia in a number of regions had contributed to a public discourse on diversity that perpetuated a fear of “the other”, asking the Special Rapporteur how the right to freedom of religion or belief intersected with other human rights, including rights related to protection from discrimination and hate speech.  United Kingdom said victims’ participation could lead to re-traumatization, and addressing those risks was key, asking how the international community could ensure a clearer approach to victim participation in transitional processes.  Regarding freedom of religion or belief, particular concern was expressed about the situation of religious minorities in the Middle East.  Israel said that Israel was a unique case of coexistence between people of different faiths, and those who preferred freedom from religion were also protected.  The Special Rapporteur was invited to pay attention to the reckless manner in which the Palestinian Authority advanced its agenda.

Croatia was concerned about the marginalization, exclusion and systematic persecution of religious minorities which in some countries amounted to crimes against humanity, and asked for the Special Rapporteur’s view on the securitization of human rights as a State response to countering violence in the name of religion.  Russia agreed that victims of crimes could make their contribution to the process of administering justice; however, they were part of a diverse group and in testifying they might fear for their lives or might give testimony motivated by vengeance.  Russia asked the Special Rapporteur how objective the decision of truth and reconciliation commissions could be in this context.  Switzerland said that the inclusion of victims in transitional justice processes was a condition sine qua non and asked about risks linked to the participation of victims, notably measures that could be adopted to address their political manipulation and instrumentalization.  Switzerland asked the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion about measures States could take to deal with indirect and structural discrimination based on religion or belief.  Australia agreed that freedom of religion or belief belonged to individuals and not religious groups and shared concern about violence carried out in the name of religion.  What were examples of best practices by national human rights institutions in fostering freedom of religion or belief?  Netherlands said the politicization of the freedom of religion or belief often aggravated the existing tensions and agreed on the need for a study on incitement to religious hatred in order to identify triggers.  What concrete actions could States take, and which best practices existed in this regard?  Belgium concurred on the need for a more systematic attention to psycho-social support to victims, and stressed the need to ensure this support to children affected by armed conflict.  Belgium welcomed that the Special Rapporteur addressed misconceptions about the freedom of religion or belief, and the prioritization of the freedom of religion or belief as the primary objective of the mandate. 

Ecuador welcomed the emphasis on victims of human rights violations and the need for their participation in transitional justice.  It was important to distinguish between different types of victims and it must be recognised that they were rights holders.  Ecuador condemned populist movements that incited violence in the name of religion and called for dialogue with all relevant stakeholders.  State of Palestine said freedom of religion and belief was a basic human right enshrined in international law.  Despite this, Israel, the “occupying power” continued to blatantly violate the right of Palestinian people to freedom of religion and belief, including through continuous incitement by Israeli official against the holy places of the Palestinian people.  China said no State could deny people the right to know the truth.  Freedom of religion and belief was accorded to the people of China by the Constitution and the Government provided public services.  China had also made a significant investment in the maintenance and restoration of religious and cultural sites.  Egypt thanked the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence for his focus on victims and their participation in transitional justice, and reiterated the importance of protecting victims.  Libya stressed the importance of resolution 1618 and the importance to carry out its plan of action, but asked the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief about freedom of sexual orientation.  What was the rationale behind the mention of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons in his report?  Colombia agreed that the participation of victims was key in monitoring each measure of transitional justice.  During its armed conflict, Colombia had opened up the space for victims and had registered 8 million of them.  Transitional justice established alternative systems to help achieve the truth.

Iran expressed concern that the right to freely choose one’s religion should not be used to politicize the issue, increasing the risk of intolerance and incitement to extremism, also expressing concern about the report’s mention of sexuality, and finally asking the Special Rapporteur about how to counter Islamophobia.  Viet Nam said the right to freedom of religion or belief could not be abused to incite violence, xenophobia, hatred or division in any society.  Peru welcomed the presentation by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, noting that ensuring the participation of victims was crucial to transitional processes, as had happened nationally in Peru.  Austria endorsed the report’s remarks on the right to religious freedom, noting that the improvement on literacy on religious teachings was called for to foster religious freedom.  Austria endorsed the Special Rapporteur’s claim that support measures by authorities were necessary.  Sovereign Order of Malta said the freedom of religion and belief deserved attention and support, as too many individuals and communities were victims of religious persecution.  Particularly welcomed was the report’s mentioning of the importance of the role of religious leaders in generating cross-boundary cooperation among religions.  Argentina highlighted the importance of the participation of victims themselves, explaining how a national truth commission had had a huge effect on Argentinean society, a process of historical memory.

Pakistan said that according to the landmark 2014 Supreme Court decision, every citizen in Pakistan was free to exercise the right to profess, practice or propagate his or her religious views, even against the prevailing or dominant views of his or her religion denomination or sect.  It accorded protection to members of all religions and criminalized incitement of religious hatred.  Maldives underlined the importance of the participation of victims in transitional justice processes; this implied the recognition of victims as rights holders and affording them the respect of State institutions, and such participation manifested and strengthened the right to truth.  Indonesia was developing the law on the protection of religions, and was taking steps to investigate, prosecute and punish all instances of religious-based discrimination and violence.  Indonesia asked the Special Rapporteur how to improve the threshold for the criminalization of incitement to religious hatred.  United States agreed that State action in the name of security could undermine freedom of religion or belief, particularly for members of minorities, and said that the Istanbul Process provided opportunities for international experts to exchange best practices for implementing their obligations to protect freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression.  The United States agreed that victim participation in transitional justice processes was integral to an effective and credible justice mechanism.  Bahrain said it had developed the national pact which recognized the rights of religious minorities; freedom of religion or belief was guaranteed by the Constitution, and Bahrain had hosted a number of international conferences on rapprochement between religions and civilizations.  Bangladesh was concerned about the global trend of increasing religious intolerance and augmentation of violence, discrimination and xenophobia, particularly in the form of Islamophobia, and agreed with Mr. Shaheed that the politicization of human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, was the crux of the problem.

Remarks by the Special Rapporteurs

PABLO DE GREIFF, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, reminded the Council about the importance of responding to requests for visits expeditiously.  Turning to the comments made by delegates, he said he took heart at their expressions of support and took them seriously.  The topic of participation of victims, however, was one that everyone loved to praise but that received less action than deserved.  In that regard, he hoped the expressions of support would be accompanied by action.  In terms of how to help to make effective victim participation a reality, there was a huge disparity in the way a former combatant was treated in the aftermath of a conflict with the way victims were treated.  The international community could help by redressing the disparity of the funding between disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes and programmes related to the well-being and participation of victims.  Moreover, there was very little written about victim participation mechanisms.  Concerning the conditions for success outlined in his report - increasing security, increasing psycho-social support and improving mechanisms for capacity-building - it was not just about lending financial support, it was also about technical and political support, he said, noting that moderating tendencies toward violence and abuse on the part of State authorities made it a political question as well. 

AHMED SHAHEED, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, thanked the Danish delegation for following up on his report’s conclusions and recommendations.  Freedom of religion or belief was a human right and therefore it applied to everybody.  It also meant that non-discrimination and equality were included in the right.  The holistic understanding of those rights was vital.  Expressing gratitude for discussions from the floor regarding combatting violent extremism, he noted that certain policies undermined rights.  Many had asked what priorities would be for the mandate, and the two issues that seemed to drive violations were the politicization of religion and the securitization of religion.  A security lens was applied to human rights in general, resulting in limitations being placed upon them.  As a human right, freedom of belief had a universal dimension.  To give meaning to freedom of belief as a right, it had to be understood in context with other rights.  He urged more religious communities to speak to each other.  Religious freedom literacy was also crucial.  A lot of work had been done to advance other rights, but there was a fear of engaging with issues of religion. 

Interactive Dialogue

Turkey said that the Istanbul Process would contribute to the environment that would foster tolerance in the long run and expressed deep concern about growing Islamophobia which stood as an obstacle to the full enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief.  The Special Rapporteur should focus on this phenomenon in his future work.  Armenia said that truth and justice were crucial in Armenia and that the participation of victims in transitional justice processes ensured their empowerment and restoration of dignity.  What were the most effective ways to ensure the participation of victims of genocide and human rights violations which had happened way in the past?  Iraq said that the law guaranteed the right to life, security, freedom from torture regardless of their religion or belief, and no restrictions were imposed on manifestations of religion or belief.  Cyprus said that promoting understanding, respect and coexistence between different faiths and beliefs was its priority, and in particular the need to support and protect Christian and other communities in the broader region of the Middle East.  Norway was very worried by the rise of religious extremism in various parts of the world as religious hatred, intolerance, and violence threatened the cohesion of societies.  All must work together to enhance the implementation of existing legal regimes that protected individuals against discrimination and hate crimes.  International Committee of the Red Cross stressed that the need for individualized support to victims should be at the heart of victim participation.  Tailoring support to each individual had implications in terms of security, capacity and psycho-social support, which were the three prerequisites for successful victim participation.

Portugal said too many countries devastated by conflict had also been ravaged by impunity.   She called for international criminal justice to intervene when needed and expressed support for the International Criminal Court in fighting the scourge of impunity.  Togo said the freedom of religion or belief was fundamental in Togo and nobody could be discriminated against in Togo based on their religion.  Togo had created a truth and justice commission and, as such, praised the participation of victims in transitional justice processes as highlighted in the report.  Ukraine said individuals belonging to minority Christian communities on the territories controlled by Russian-backed illegal armed groups in eastern Ukraine faced restrictions and threats based on their beliefs.  Tunisia said there was a need to put all efforts toward dialogue and finding conditions for co-existence.  Tunisia stressed the importance of developing education strategies in order to reject violence, and highlighted the role of the media in addressing misconceptions.  Bolivia said the participation of victims was important to empowering victims.  Bolivia had begun to declassify documents related to its dictatorship and shed light on forced disappearances and other violations of human rights.  Albania said it looked forward to welcoming the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief in Albania next May.  There was a pressing need to enhance knowledge and religious freedom literacy in societies.  Education was key in increasing respect for freedom of religion.

International Development Law Organization said that the rule of law was based on the fundamental principle of equal protection and equality; with waves of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and attacks on Christian minorities in previously tolerant societies, measures to strengthen religious tolerance were ever critical to achieving peaceful, inclusive societies.  Paraguay said that what distinguished truth commissions was that they included messages from victims and said that the major achievement in Paraguay was the establishment of the Department for Truth and Reconciliation to implement the recommendations by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, provide remedies and preserve memory.  Azerbaijan welcomed the idea about the critical importance of knowledge exchange to increase the protection for the freedom of religion or belief and reiterated its attachment to promoting intercultural dialogue and tolerance.  Latvia agreed that it was imperative for transitional justice processes to recognize and address the needs of victims and asked how the International Criminal Court could ensure access to justice to a wide range of victims.  With regards to misconceptions about the freedom of religion or belief, Latvia asked how States could cooperate in addressing persistent challenges to ensure that this fundamental human right was protected.  Uruguay said it had created in 2015 the truth and justice group to investigate crimes against humanity committed during the dictatorship, created a specialized human rights unit in the Office of the Attorney General, and improved access to archives, including in the police, army and intelligence.  Italy expressed concern about the situation of Christians, Yazidis and other minority groups victims of violence perpetuated by Da’esh, Boko Haram and other terrorist and extremist groups, and asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on possible additional instruments for further promoting freedom of religion or belief.

Sudan stated that the Special Rapporteur was the principal coordinator to achieve the right to religion within the United Nations system.  States should respect the rights of all religions and beliefs, and the right to include religious education in curriculum.  Morocco said it was interesting to note a trend towards broad national consultations on transitional justice.  As for freedom of religion, Morocco did not agree that the right to freedom of religion was particularly jeopardized when States took on the role of the guardian of the majority religion.  Ireland continued to urge the Government of the United Kingdom, the Northern Ireland political parties and all stakeholders to find a way forward in establishing institutions dealing with the past. 

Article 19 noted that the triple threat to freedom of religion or belief – violence in the name of religion, rising discriminatory populism, and States’ securitization of rights – also gravely endangered the right to freedom of expression.  International Humanist and Ethical Union reminded that there was no resolution against apostasy or blasphemy laws, which were widespread and deeply harmful.  States should not use the unreasonableness and intolerance of some to oppress the freedoms of others. 

World Environmental and Resources Council said the denial of human rights was at the root of conflicts in many countries.  Injustice reigned supreme when people were denied what they deserved.  Individuals could only survive in a place where their individual rights and the truth were respected.  Alliance Defending Freedom said Christians in the Nineveh Plains in Iraq were being killed and their homes and churches were being burned down.  Genocide was the only word to describe what was happening.  The international community had a responsibility to protect Christians and all other religious and ethnic groups in the Middle East.  Association Miraisme International said it was disturbing to see the growing intolerance in a number of countries in which there was severe persecution towards those who had a religious conviction.   Effective tools were needed to mitigate the use of negative stereotypes and stigmatization of people based on their religion or beliefs.  VIVAT International said that since the end of the war, the Bosnian authorities had made a great effort in regard to the process of reconciliation, however it was deeply concerned with information about the increasing number of violations of human rights in places such as Banja Luka and in Glamoč.   Commission to Study the Organization of Peace expressed concern that religious beliefs had resulted in conflict, with religiously motivated groups misinterpreting religious beliefs.  In Pakistan, freedom of religion was highly questionable and in Egypt, the Government nullified the conversion of Islam to any other religion.

Centre for Inquiry noted that regrettably freedom of religion or belief was restricted around the world, and often State actors justified those restrictions in the name of a particular religious doctrine.  Franciscans International, in a joint statement with the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepard, and Dominicans for Justice and Peace, expressed disappointment over the very limited progress made by the Government of Sri Lanka in relation to transitional justice commitments made through the Human Rights Council resolution 30/1, adopted in October 2015.  Jubilee Campaign urged all United Nations Member States to ensure that strong recommendations on freedom of religion or belief were raised as part of the third Universal Periodic Review cycle.   Asian Legal Resource Centre stated that truth, justice, reparation and guarantee of non-recurrence was impossible at the domestic level without viable and dedicated national justice institutions.  It cited cases of human rights abuses from Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Nepal and India.  Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales noted that victims testimonies had been crucial in the cases of human rights violations tried in countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia and Paraguay, which had historic experiences of dictatorships.  In March 2016 for the first time a company was tried for the violations of the rights of its employees.  Al-Khoei Foundation noted that the threat of radicalization by non-State actors had violated the fundamental right to freedom of religion or belief, and had impacted religious minorities in countries across the world where Shias had been persecuted.

Women’s Human Rights International Association drew attention to the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988 in Iran.  The mujahedeen had been considered renegades and hypocrites and had been put to death.  Families who had had their loved ones killed were seeking the truth.  The Iranian people would not forget, they would not forgive.  Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain Inc. said the Government of Bahrain had scaled up its discriminatory practices against the Shia leaders.  The Shia people in the country faced institutional discrimination in all areas of their lives and were disproportionately excluded from society. 

Concluding Remarks

PABLO DE GREIFF, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, said in response to the Russian Federation’s question about the possibility of participatory measures being used for purposes of revenge, that the participation of victims did not exempt anyone from normal judicial procedures.  In past experiences, there had not been a problem of that sort.  He was glad that the representative of Portugal referenced Sustainable Development Goal 16 as it was important to draw links between justice, development and security.  Cycles of violence sustained conflicts, he stressed, and the only effective way to break those cycles included the effective redress of past violations.  Concerning the question from Switzerland on how to prevent the political manipulation of victims, he said there was no iron clad guarantee and that was a trend that was worrisome.  One mitigating factor, however, was to establish mechanisms to integrate the participation of victims and adhere to all relevant rule of law standards and guarantees.  Nothing undermined the use of transitional justice measures more than if they were used for patronage designed to benefit one group.  The only relevant criteria to trigger the use of such a mechanism was the violation of human rights and international law.  He stressed the importance of designing and implementing measures on the basis of human rights.  Turning to the French delegate’s question on the importance of civil society in the implementation of transitional justice measures, he said most discussion had omitted the important role that civil society could play in the prevention of human rights violations.  He thanked the International Committee of the Red Cross for its intervention and its willingness to help him highlight the importance of victim participation.  He then responded to Ireland’s question about his mandate’s plans regarding the Northern Ireland process.  On that issue, he was willing to assist all parties in the search for comprehensive mechanisms of redress.  Finally, he thanked Uruguay for its offer for a follow up report on his recommendations.

AHMED SHAHEED, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, in his concluding remarks reminded of the grave situation of freedom of religion or belief all over the world.  However, he was encouraged by the stated commitment by delegations to address that urgent issue, which many described as mass atrocity crimes.  Many speakers referred to the existence of blasphemy laws, discriminatory practices, impunity for very grave violations and the suppression of the rights of persons in vulnerable situations.  Many of them also referred to the available tools to protect the freedom of religion and belief, including the Istanbul Process and the Rabat Plan of Action which were crucial tools for dealing with many of the concerns.  Promoting inter-religious dialogue and religious freedom literacy were some of the elements that could help promote religious freedom.   The Istanbul Process needed to be more introspective, namely States needed to address issues at home, which required more transparency in how they were implementing the Rabat Plan of Action.  The process had to be more inclusive and open to civil society.  Mr. Shaheed sought more access to national-level stakeholders during and outside country visits.  There was a need for cross-country dialogue among religious communities.  In his future work, Mr. Shaheed said he would like to focus on the process of politicization of religious issues, securitization and the gender dimension of the freedom of religion or belief.

____________________

For use of the information media; not an official record

Follow UNIS Geneva on: Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube |Flickr