52nd Human Rights Council Reports

Report on Cultural Rights


March 15th, 2023: Special Report on Cultural Rights

 Composition of the HRC

Main Report

The Chair opens the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion on March 10th, 2023.

The Special Rapporteur (SP) on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Nazila Ghanea, opened the Interactive Dialogue (ID) on freedom of religion.

The report presented to the Human Rights Council explores the global landscape of freedom of thought, conscience, religion, or belief. It establishes the universality of this right, evidenced by numerous civilizations, international and cross-regional normative instruments. The mandate tasks to advance freedom of religion or belief, prohibit discrimination, and condemn its abuse as a tool for discrimination and violence. The report notes the potential role of religion or belief in strengthening respect for human rights. Many outstanding recommendations remain unfulfilled, and the report calls for state efforts to advance freedom of religion or belief through technical advice and assistance. Manifestation of this right is not subject to limitation on the grounds of national security, nor subject to derogation in times of public emergency. The report highlights the importance of non-discrimination and inclusion in activities for the promotion of tolerance, coexistence, and understanding. The channels for advancing freedom of religion or belief need to remain diverse, and the report concludes with a set of recommendations addressed to states, international organizations and institutions, NGOs, and faith-based actors.

The report recommended that states achieve coherence in domestic and foreign policy efforts, avoid singling out particular religious minorities, and respect freedom of religion or belief in all state initiatives. The Special Rapporteur also requested that states strongly consider ratifying the first optional protocol to the ICCPR to improve the protection of this human right.

The Chair, informs that the list of speakers is closed and encourages delegations to put forward questions or comments about the Special Rapporteurs Report.

Interactive Dialogue 

Council Members, Observer States and other Observers,

Qatar, (on behalf of Arab countries) The Arab group expresses their appreciation for the efforts of the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion and belief. Emphasizes that discrimination based on religion or belief goes against the principles of the United Nations Charter and various international instruments. They highlight their commitment to upholding the rights to freedom of religion and belief in the context of tolerance towards all people. The group expresses concern about the increasing incidence of the Quran being found in many countries and calls for condemnation of such acts that incite hate.

Nordic Baltic Counties, express their support for an inclusive approach to freedom of religion or belief, emphasizing the need for mutual understanding and respect. They condemn acts of violence and provocation aimed at hurting others and highlight the importance of human rights norms to tackle such incidents. The countries reaffirm their commitment to promoting and protecting these standards.

The speaker also asks the Special Rapporteur about their plans for working with regional organizations to ensure a coherent approach to this issue, and how they plan to address the intersectionality between freedom of religion or belief and gender equality throughout their mandate.

Malta, they acknowledge the evolving responsibilities in this field and as a religious institution, the Order of Malta engages in advocacy and humanitarian action in 120 countries in an inclusive and non-discriminatory way. They welcome the appointment of special envoys for freedom of religion or belief by several states. The speaker expresses gratitude to the Special Rapporteur for participating in a panel discussion on religion, diplomacy, and conflict at a recent Munich Security Conference.

Ensuring everyone's rights to freedom of religion or belief, without discrimination or persecution, is crucial, and religion should not be a reason for violence or conflict. The role of local and national actors, as well as supporting states, is crucial in upholding these rights. The next report of the Special Rapporteur will focus on this issue. The importance of the media's role in promoting religious tolerance and preventing violence and conflict based on religion is a relevant consideration in this regard.

Tunisia, the delegation thanks the Special Rapporteur for her comprehensive report and notes the recommendations made, particularly in relation to inciting hate based on religion. They emphasize the importance of tolerance in protecting freedom of belief and religion, as enshrined in their Constitution. The delegation calls on the international community to combat radical Islam and condemns the desecration of the Holy Quran, calling for punishment of those responsible.

The Chair informs that the meeting is adjourned and will resume at 15:00 for further discussion with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

The Chair resumes the session and opens the floor for delegations to make their statement.

Kazakhstan, emphasizes the importance of using religions to achieve long-term stability. The recent Congress of religious leaders addressed global issues and emphasized the need to combat intolerance and discrimination. However, religious intolerance remains a hindrance to achieving global peace. The international community must promote interfaith peace and harmony to prioritize conventional and inter-ethnic harmony.

Italy, the representative from Italy aligns with the EU in support of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of religion or belief, promoting and protecting religious rights. Italy champions these priorities in multilateral fora, development cooperation, and humanitarian programs, such as the Fund for Christian minorities persecuted in crises. Italy fosters dialogue and cooperation among different religious leaders and communities to prevent conflicts and build peaceful and inclusive societies. Italy appointed a Special Envoy for freedom of religion and belief protection and interreligious dialogue to step up their commitment in this domain.

United States of America, the statement acknowledges recent reports on international freedom of religion or belief activities and urges governments to create spaces where civil society, including religious communities, can freely speak and engage. The United States supports the implementation of Resolution 1618 and continued cooperation through the Istanbul Process. The International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance advocates for freedom of religion or belief for all, including the right to change or not practice any religion. The statement looks forward to combatting discrimination while still respecting freedom of expression and other human rights. There is a question raised about the best practices to ensure individuals can fully exercise their human rights, including freedom of religion or belief.

Israel, The right to freedom of religion and belief is fundamental in Israeli society, with the state guaranteeing freedom of religion, conscience, and culture, as well as protection of holy places and access to holy sites. Israel has supported the activities of the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and wishes to continue collaboration. Israel is concerned about the rise of global anti-Semitism and invites the Special Reporter to pay special attention to an eight-point action plan to combat anti-Semitism and promote freedom of religion and belief.

Canada, raises concerns about the discrimination and persecution of various religious groups in China and Iran, as well as the rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiments globally. Canada is committed to working with other nations and civil society organizations to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief for all. The question is raised about how to strengthen the principle of universality and ensure the voices of advocates are heard in countries where this right is under threat.

Sierra Leone, condemns violence against religious groups and individuals and upholds freedom of religion and belief as protected by their constitution. The country has been recognized for its exceptional tolerance by the Human Rights Committee and Freedom

House. They are committed to working with treaty bodies and special rapporteurs to ensure the protection and promotion of human rights. The delegation expressed their support for the ESA mandate and emphasized the importance of addressing systemic impediments to freedom of religion or belief.

France supports the freedom of religion or belief as a fundamental human right and combats all forms of discrimination, including those based on belief. The freedom of opinion and expression is also important, and appeals to hatred, discrimination or violence can be criminalized. Human rights protect individuals' religious convictions and symbols, but criticism is allowed as long as it does not incite hatred, discrimination or violence. France acknowledges the importance of considering the recommendations made in the QPR, as mentioned in the report.

Luxembourg, it is the responsibility of states and international organizations to ensure freedom of religion or belief. This includes the right to openly practice, adopt, or change one's religion or belief and to express those convictions publicly. Discrimination against any religion or belief is an attempt to control individual thoughts and is unacceptable. However, religious discrimination continues to be a fact in certain parts of the world against certain minorities. Efforts must be made to improve the protection of these communities.

China asserts that it protects its citizens' religious freedom and has developed its own path to human rights protection. It has 200 million religious followers, 380,000 religious workers, and over 5,500 religious groups. Chinese translations of religious texts are available in multiple languages, and different religions coexist harmoniously. China calls for respect for religious freedom, particularly for minority groups like Muslims, and criticizes the hypocrisy of some Western politicians.

Costa Rica, The UN Human Rights approach is crucial in protecting freedom of religion or belief, as it links this freedom with other fundamental rights. Education is key in promoting inclusive thinking and empowering individuals. Regulatory frameworks protecting religious freedoms must be based on defending and promoting the freedoms and dignity of all individuals, without limiting certain groups. These groups include religious communities, the LGBTI+ community, and those who do not profess any religion.

Russian Federation, Miss Guinea's report highlights flagrant violations of the rights of believers in Ukraine, particularly against the canonical orthodoxy. Seizures of churches, violence, arson, and vandalism have been reported. The Ukrainian media has launched a smear campaign against the church, and there has been no reaction from international human rights institutions. The Ukrainian Armed Forces have also been accused of destroying religious places of worship.

Cameroon, is secular and neutral towards all religions, ensuring freedom of religion and the ability to change one's beliefs. 48 religious associations are authorized in the country, including three Islamic and 180 Catholic congregations, with 60% of the population identifying as Christian, 20% as Muslim, and 20% as animist. Religious events are

recognized as important days and holidays, and private schools are allowed to offer religious education as long as they meet the same standards as public schools.

Morocco, The report highlights three crucial dimensions for peaceful cohabitation in Moroccan society: freedom of religion, the prohibition of discrimination based on religion, and the targeting of individuals based on religion. Morocco has a long legacy of coexistence and interfaith harmony, promoting an Islam of tolerance and peaceful values. Concrete means have been chosen, such as the Mohammed six Institutes for the training of Imams and support for international initiatives promoting culture and tolerance. The Institutes offer training in a wide range of subjects and are open to students from foreign countries, mainly Africa. The ninth forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, supported by Morocco, was held in November.

Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), There is growing concern over obstacles and attacks on the right to freedom of religion, including hate speech, intolerance, and stigmatization based on religion, particularly against Muslims. The media can promote coexistence and religious tolerance by avoiding negative stereotypes, and regulations with exemplary sanctions are needed to combat hate speech in the digital realm. Religion can play a fundamental role in promoting harmony and social peace, and efforts to fight poverty, discrimination, and marginalization must promote social and economic inclusion for all, including those of different religions.

Iraq has adopted the principle of non-discrimination and all Iraqis are equal before the law without any distinction based on various factors. The Constitution guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and beliefs, with remedies available in cases of violation. There is no law that draws distinctions between communities in the exercise of worship rights.

Armenia, concerned about Azerbaijan's disregard for international calls to protect the freedom of religion and belief of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. The targeting of the Armenian Holy Savior cathedral in Shushi and Azerbaijan's failure to consult with the Armenian Church on its refurbishment is alarming. Azerbaijan's decision to review and revive the cultural heritage of Nagorno-Karabakh threatens the remaining Armenian religious sites, and they have failed to implement the ICJ's binding order to prevent vandalism and desecration of Armenian cultural heritage.

Poland expressed their support for the promotion and protection of freedom of religion and reiterated that it remains a cornerstone of their human rights policy. They welcomed the proposed three-dimensional framework and expressed their readiness to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur. The Special Rapporteur was asked if they plan to address the interdependency between freedom of religion and other fundamental freedoms in their thematic focus.

Nepal, is a secular country that promotes peaceful coexistence among all religions. The constitution ensures the freedom of religion, and the National Penal Code prohibits any act that insults religious feelings. Nepal believes in preventing coercion and monetary

inducement for religious conversion. The question asks if the Special Rapporteur is working to eliminate forced conversion, and for any initiatives taken in that regard.

Egypt, acknowledges the Special Rapporteur's report and emphasizes the need to strengthen institutional frameworks to address hate speech. The country condemns the burning of the Holy Quran in various nations, which it considers hate crimes that foment terrorism and undermine religious freedoms. Egypt calls for promoting tolerance, peaceful coexistence, and respect for all religions.

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is committed to promoting and protecting freedom of religion or belief, and hosted an important international conference on the topic last year. They are looking for ways to turn their commitments into concrete actions, and are seeking advice from the Special Rapporteur on how to coordinate their efforts, particularly in regards to individuals who have been imprisoned due to their faith or belief. 

Final Remarks 

The Chair thanks the SR for his work and report and the delegations for their interest, which shows how important this subject is. The end of this dialogue has been reached.

The Chair concludes item 3 of the agenda (Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development).

Author: Joshua Newman

Uploaded: March 22nd 2023 (Originally on CD4Peace Archive Site)


Cultural Diversity and Sustainable Development for Peace