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UN expert: religious and belief minorities must not be left behind in push for sustainable development

20 October 2020

NEW YORK (20 October 2020) – Five years after 193 countries pledged to "leave no one behind" by curbing inequality, a UN expert warned today that discrimination and entrenched inequalities still exist around the world, and are making life worse for many individuals and communities.

"The global commitment that no one should be left behind can only be fulfilled when sustainable development efforts advance the political, social and economic inclusion of people belonging to religious or belief minorities," Ahmed Shaheed, special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief told the UN General Assembly.

In presenting his annual report, he recalled the important momentum that drove the international community to set Sustainable Development Goads (SDGs) under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a response to global challenges, such as conflict, discrimination, and environmental degradation.

"Left unchecked, disparities and inequalities will continue to undermine future progress towards achieving sustainable development and threaten to reverse gains made towards realizing the SDGs," Shaheed said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed these vulnerabilities and has magnified, almost daily, the adverse impacts of various forms of systemic discrimination and violations of fundamental human rights on the basic functioning of societies.

In addition to his annual report, the Special Rapporteur presented a set of indicators for assessing commitment to, and progress toward respecting, protecting and promoting the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief, and encouraged States to work with civil society and others to collect and publish disaggregated data on freedom of religion or belief.

"It is my hope that this framework provides development professionals, policymakers and human rights monitors alike with practical metrics, both qualitative and quantitative, to identify progress towards achieving freedom of religion of belief for all", he said. "I look forward to continued engagement on the model proposed in the coming months with experts, monitors, officials and rights-holders."


Mr. Ahmed Shaheed (the Maldives) was appointed Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016. Mr. Shaheed is Deputy Director of the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex, UK and Senior Fellow of the Raoul Wallenberg Human Rights Centre in Canada. He was Foreign Minister of the Maldives from 2005 to 2007 and from 2008 to 2010. He led the country's efforts to sign and ratify all nine international human rights Conventions and to implement them in law and practice. Mr. Shaheed is the former Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as th 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.

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Mr. Damianos Serefidis (+41 22 917 94 88/ [email protected])

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / [email protected]), Jeremy Laurence (+ 41 22 917 7578 / [email protected]) and Kitty McKinsey ([email protected])

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