STOCKHOLM (20 October 2023) – UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Nazila Ghanea, today urged Sweden to strengthen its engagement and dialogue with faith communities to combat religious or belief intolerance in the light of numerous challenges both nationally and globally, and in the context of the concerning and repeated instances of the burning of the Holy Qur’an.
“Vigilance is required regarding religious or belief intolerance and discrimination within society. Societal harassment, discrimination and threats must not go under cover,” Ghanea said in a statement at the end of a 10-day visit to the country.
She noted that the historical homogeneity of Swedish society and its secular model has informed an understanding of ‘religion’ as being individual and private. However, societal structures have significantly changed, including as a result of recent migration. The reality is that religiosity is now far more diverse within society.
“The dynamism and range of issues that arise cannot be underestimated and any complacency by the authorities at different levels can lead to oversight, delays in access to justice, blind spots and distrust,” the UN expert said.
“Disaggregated and regular data collection is essential to giving us an insight into the actual picture of the enjoyment of rights, or otherwise,” Ghanea said. “It goes without saying that this would be voluntary and rest on self-definition,” she said.
During her visit, the Special Rapporteur held meetings with Government officials and agencies in Stockholm. She met with members of Parliament, the Supreme Administrative Court, prosecutors, police authorities, civil society organisations, representatives of religious or belief communities and faith-based actors as well as academics. She also met with representatives of local authorities, the judiciary and the police in Malmö and the Swedish Institute for Human Rights in Lund.
She recalled that numerous recent challenges have encouraged the authorities to realise that faith communities “can be part of the solution”. “Any outreach and dialogue provide ongoing channels for exchange, learning and trust building – it should not only be set up episodically after crises,” Ghanea said. “The legitimacy and representation can be enhanced when these fora are rooted in the community and set up by faith communities and civil society themselves,” she said.
The expert will present a full report on her visit to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2024.
Dr. Nazila Ghanea of the Islamic Republic of Iran is the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. She took up the mandate on 1 August 2022. Dr. Ghanea is Professor of International Human Rights Law and Director of the MSc in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford. She has researched and published widely in international human rights law, including on freedom of religion or belief, and served as consultant to numerous agencies.
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 organisation and serve in their individual capacity.
UN Human Rights, Country Page – Sweden
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