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UN expert raises alarm over serious human rights violations against religious minorities in situations of conflict

11 March 2022

GENEVA (10 March 2022) – A UN human rights expert has expressed grave concern at the scale, severity and systematic nature of human rights violations perpetrated against religious and belief minorities in situations of conflict, in a report presented to the Human Rights Council today.

“The most politically marginalized are particularly susceptible to rising insecurity, with violence and discrimination frequently representing a continuation rather than a break from recent history - and often compounding vulnerability based on religion or belief and other identifiers, such as ethnicity, race and gender,” said Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

In his report to the Council, the Special Rapporteur said that around the world, conflicts were lasting longer than ever before and seriously compromising the rights of religious minorities, including their right to freedom of religion or belief. The violations affected religious minorities at least partly because of their faith identity, Shaheed said.

“However, more broadly, conflict and crises may affect minorities “alongside others by virtue of living in these fragile settings, rather than necessarily because of their faith identity,” the expert said.

Shaheed warned against “religionizing” conflicts which could render them more intractable and make peacebuilding more elusive.

“It is essential not to unduly overestimate the role of religion in either conflict or peace-making to the exclusion of other factors and motivations involved. Actors often target religious or belief minorities to further their political, economic and military aims – or invoke crisis conditions to justify or ignore human rights violations,” the UN expert said.

Drawing from the Special Rapporteur’s extensive engagement with affected communities and relevant stakeholders, the report maps the diverse experiences of religious or belief minorities. The Special Rapporteur provided evidence-based analysis of the specific needs and vulnerabilities experienced by minorities in conflict and insecure settings in order “to inform policy and practical efforts.”

“Risk to the human rights of one community is a risk to all society,” Shaheed said.
“State and non-State actors must uphold human rights and respect, promote and protect diverse religious or belief systems, including of minorities, whether during war or peacetime.”  


Mr. Ahmed Shaheed (the Maldives) was appointed as 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 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.

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