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Call for input: Report on the rights of persons belonging to religious or belief minorities in situations of conflict

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, is preparing his report for the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2022, on the rights of persons belonging to religious or belief minorities in situations of conflict1 and insecurity2

Background 

In the past decade, persons belonging or who are perceived as belonging to religious or belief minorities have been primary targets of violence perpetrated by State and non-State actors in times of conflict and insecurity. They have been targeted with violence against their person and property alike, including sites of religious significance and cultural heritage, with such attacks even threatening their identity and existence altogether in certain cases. From 2014, ISIS has intentionally targeted the Yazidis and other religious or belief minorities in Iraq. In Myanmar, the military is widely accused of committing genocide against the ethno-religious Rohingya minority, especially within the Rakhine state, while armed groups in the Central African Republic have reportedly targeted civilians for killings, torture, and gender-based violence based on their Christian or Muslim identity. At this very moment in Afghanistan the armed terrorist group, Islamic State of Khorasan Province, is escalating deadly violence against the Hazara Shia community and other religious minorities. These are concerning, if non-exhaustive, examples of minorities in situations of vulnerability facing extreme or existential threats.

In many other situations of conflict and insecurity, religious or belief minorities may not be primary targets of hostilities, but have become caught in the crosshairs in different ways.3 Conflict parties may attempt to co-opt a religious or belief minority and target the group with violence and hate crimes if such efforts fail. Armed groups or States may instrumentalize sentiments of religious actors to gain supporters, or present themselves as protectors of religious groups, resulting in conflicts being “religionized” and heightened risks to minorities. In other contexts, pre-existing inequalities based on religion or belief may be compounded in situations of conflict or insecurity including where they are stigmatized and scapegoated during these times of crisis Additionally, persons belonging to religious or belief minorities often sound the alarm that, in conflict resolution and post-transition settings, their needs are sidelined, voices excluded, and their suffering met with impunity. 

Against this background, the Special Rapporteur aims to provide an evidence-based analysis of the multi-layered and layered experiences of persons belonging to religious or belief minorities in situations of conflict and insecurity. He will explore if, why, and how religious or belief minorities are exposed to particular risks of experiencing human rights violations in these situations and how these risks can be ameliorated. Furthermore, he aims to survey how a range of relevant stakeholders – including States, non-State actors, religious leaders, humanitarian agencies and conflict resolution professionals – could adopt a human rights approach in responding to the needs of rights-holders and in laying the groundwork for inclusive transitions from conflict and insecurity towards peace. In accordance with the Special Rapporteur's mandate, the report will apply a gender perspective in collecting data, identifying gender-specific abuses, and making recommendations. 

Key questions 

The Special Rapporteur invites all interested parties (including States, UN agencies and programmes, other international and regional organizations, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations, faith-based actors, academics and policy experts) to provide input for this report in response to any of the following questions. 

Experiences of persons belonging to religious or belief minorities in situations of conflict or insecurity: 

  • Are there observable trends regarding the experiences of persons belonging to a religious or belief minority in conflict situations? When, where and how are they affected on the basis of their identity? 
  • How do hierarchies of gender, age, or disability impact such experiences of religious or belief minorities?
  • Are there preconditions that give rise to situations where religious or belief minorities are primary targets of violence by armed groups or otherwise disproportionately suffer during situations of conflict and insecurity? 
  • How do situations of conflict and insecurity compound pre-existing inequalities based on one’s identity as a member of a religion or belief minority?
  • Are there any comprehensive reports or studies on how one’s identity as a member of a religious or belief minority could affect their experiences during and after armed conflicts? If not, what are the reasons for this dearth of data? 
  • Among civilians affected by situations of conflict or insecurity, do religious or belief minorities have specific needs? If so, what are they? Are there protection gaps or gaps in accessing ​​remedies and/or lifesaving services for persons belonging to religious or belief minorities who are victims of conflict-related violence?
  • Are there situations where religious or belief identities are mobilised by parties in a conflict or insecure environment, such as to galvanise populations or to facilitate the constitution of alliances? How does this impact upon the human rights of persons belonging to religious or belief minorities?
  • What are the potential human rights implications, if any, of mislabelling conflicts as “religious” in nature, especially for religious or belief minorities in the relevant territory?
  • Do persons belonging to religious or belief minorities experience particular challenges in situations of displacement? 
  • In peacebuilding, conflict resolution and post-conflict settings, are there challenges to protecting the human rights of religious or belief minorities? If so, please elaborate. 

In considering the role of relevant stakeholders: 

  • Are there any lessons for how State and non-State actors can better protect against human rights violations and atrocities against religious or belief minorities in situations of conflict or insecurity?
  • What steps can UN Member States, the UN human rights system, international organisations and non-State actors – including humanitarian and security actors, private companies, civil society and religious or belief leaders – take in order to (a) prevent; (b) mitigate; or (c) respond to the human rights challenges experienced by persons belonging to religious or belief minorities in situations of armed conflict? 
  • Are there any examples of good practice that you could point to where State or non-State actors have taken effective measures to prevent, mitigate or respond to human rights violations experienced by persons belonging to religious or belief minorities in situations of armed conflict? This may include practical examples of early warning and preventive mechanisms, policies or practices for delivering humanitarian aid during the conflict or assistance for displaced members of religious or belief minorities.  

Confidentiality

All submissions will be treated confidentially by the Special Rapporteur and used for the sole purpose of preparing this report. Upon completion of the report, all submissions will be published on the website of the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, unless the submitter requests otherwise. 

How to make a submission

The Special Rapporteur kindly requests that all submissions are written preferably in English or alternatively in French or Spanish. Submissions should be limited to a maximum of 2,500 words. Additional documents, such as laws and regulations, may be attached in the original language. 

Submissions can be made until December 2021 and should be sent to ohchr-freedomofreligion@un.org and to damianos.serefidis@un.org.

 


[1] Both non-international armed conflicts and international armed conflicts, as generally defined in international law. See, for example, https://www.icrc.org/en/doc/assets/files/other/opinion-paper-armed-conflict.pdf

[2] For the purposes of this document, “insecurity” is defined as a state of anxiety or fear stemming from perceived internal or external threats. This may arise from enduring violence, disharmony between distinct communities, loss of government authority, growth of criminal violence and inability to provide political goods.

[3] In other contexts, of course, members of armed groups are drawn from religious or ethnic minority communities and may be a principal party to a conflict.