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HRC37 – SR on Freedom of religion and belief: MRG’s reaction to the Special Rapporteur’s study on the relationship between states and religions

2 March 2018

UN Human Rights Council

37th session

Individual ID with SR on Freedom of Religion and Belief (item 3)

Thank you Mister President,

Minority Rights Group would like to thank the Special Rapporteur for tackling in his report the complex but fundamental issue of the relationship between states and religions, and how this relationship impacts on people’s freedom of religion and belief and associated rights.

As you stress in your report, the place that states give to religion in their political and social systems have a particular impact on religious minorities living within their territory.

Reflecting on the conclusions of your report, we would like to make two points.

The first point is that one of the manifestations of a state preference for a specific religion is the adoption of nationality laws that directly or indirectly discriminate against people belonging to religious minorities, especially in contexts where they are seen as threatening the national identity. This is for instance the case in Myanmar with the Rohingya, or in Bhutan with the Hindu ethnic Nepalese, where ethno-religious minorities have been made stateless. Elsewhere, for instance in a number countries from the Middle East and North Africa, where discrimination on the basis of religion makes it more difficult for religious minorities to register marriage, register births and to obtain ID, resulting in situations of de facto deprivation of citizenship rights. In all these cases, a state preference for a certain religious identity results in the political and social exclusion of religious minorities.

Secondly, we want to echo the fact that, while the official relationship between state and religion, as stated in state constitutions, is an important factor, it is also important to look at how government leadership effectively promote a vision of the state itself, favouring a specific religion against others. It is striking that Myanmar is a state that does not officially promote a specific religion, but whose leadership has been promoting a nationalism linked to a Buddhist identity. Similarly, while India is a secular state, its current leadership has shown proximity with Hindu nationalism and has adopted laws and a discourse that contributed to an exclusionary environment against Muslims, conducive to communal violence. In many cases, the critical factor is less the official relationship between state and religion than the identity promoted by the leadership of the country, and the way governments promote religious harmony or contribute to religious friction.

I thank you.