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Reaction to the recommendations of the 6th UN Forum on Minority Issues – Human Rights Council – 25th Session

19 March 2014

Item 3 – General Debate

Human Rights Council, 25th Session, 3-28 March 2014
Statement given by Glenn Payot, Geneva Representative, MRG

Thank you Mister President,

Minority Rights Group (MRG) welcomes the recommendations of the 6th Forum on Minority Issues, which focussed on guaranteeing the rights of religious minorities. This set of recommendations provides states and other stakeholders with practical guidelines to combat the roots of violence and discrimination targeting people for their belonging to religious minorities. This discussion and these recommendations come at a very timely moment. Indeed, in the current contexts of economic crisis, social tensions and political turmoil, religious identities are frequently instrumentalized for political reasons, and religious minorities find themselves consequently scapegoated and victimized.

To counter these phenomena, we appreciate the practical value of these recommendations, and the light they shed on concrete ways for states to implement the UN Declaration on the rights of persons belonging to minorities. By stressing the importance of education, of inter-faith dialogue and freedom of expression, by highlighting the role of the media and the responsibility of political and religious leaders, they echo and reinforce the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, presented earlier this week, on how to tackle collective displays of religious hatred.

However, to reach their full potential, these recommendations must be taken as basis for an in-depth analysis of the specific protection gaps in each country, and for designing specific laws and policies. In these processes, two elements should be borne in mind:

Firstly, experience shows that minority rights issues are too often addressed without the effective participation and proper involvement of minority representatives. As rightly highlighted in the text, the recommendations should be “developed, designed, implemented and reviewed with the full and effective participation of religious minorities, including women”. MRG sees this cooperation and the maintenance of an open dialogue with members of minorities as a key to the successful implementation of these recommendations.

Secondly, MRG cannot stress enough the importance of the right for individuals to self-identify as belonging to a religious minority or not to do so. Freedom of religion and belief is not “à la carte” and it is not for states to decide who is part of a religious group and who is not. In numerous countries constitutional freedoms and legal protections continue to be granted by the state on a selective basis, creating two categories: recognized religious minorities, and non-recognized religious minorities. Repeated and established jurisprudence from UN treaty bodies and special procedures made it clear that article 18 of the ICCPR must not be limited to traditional or established religions, but should be broadly construed. Non-recognition of religions and selectiveness in granting rights to minorities constitute an important obstacle to the universal enjoyment of human rights.

To conclude, MRG calls on states to give these recommendations the consideration they deserve, and to implement them in close cooperation with all minorities under their jurisdictions.