Follow UNISPAL Twitter RSS
1. This report gives an account of communications transmitted by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief between 1 December 2009 and 30 November 2010. It also contains summaries of the replies received from Governments by 2 February 2011 and observations of the Special Rapporteur where considered appropriate. Some of these observations refer to the Special Rapporteur’s framework for communications (see E/CN.4/2006/5, annex and A/HRC/6/5). The various categories are as follows:
3. Owing to restrictions on the length of documents, the Special Rapporteur has been obliged to summarize in this report the communications sent and received. As a result, replies from Governments could not be published in their entirety. The names of alleged victims are reflected in this report, although exceptions may be made in relation to children and other victims of human rights violations to whom publication would be problematic or raise security concerns.
II. Summary of cases transmitted and replies received
1. Communication sent on 11 March 2010 jointly with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967
(a) Allegations transmitted to the Government
206. The Special Procedures mandate holders brought to the attention of the Government information regarding religious tensions and violent clashes related to religious sites and places of worship in Bethlehem, Hebron and Jerusalem.
207. According to the information received, the Prime Minister of Israel, H.E. Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, announced on 21 February 2010 a plan to rehabilitate and strengthen the national heritage infrastructures of the State of Israel and in this context confirmed his intention to include Rachel’s Tomb (on the outskirts of Bethlehem city) and the Cave of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque (in Hebron city) in the list of national heritage sites. During the following days and in relation to this decision, violent clashes occurred between dozens of Palestinian youths and Israeli forces at various locations in Hebron and in other cities.
208. On 22 February 2010, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Robert H. Serry, indicated in a statement that the two holy sites in Bethlehem and Hebron were located in occupied Palestinian territory and were of historical and religious significance not only to Judaism but also to Islam and to Christianity. Mr. Serry urged Israel not to take any steps on the ground which could undermine trust or prejudice peace negotiations. On 25 February 2010, the Director-General of UNESCO, Ms. Irina Bokova, also expressed her concern at the announcement by the Israeli Prime Minister to include the two sites in Bethlehem and Hebron in the Israeli list of National Heritage sites and at the resulting escalation of tension in the area.
209. In a statement of 25 February 2010, the Israeli Prime Minister emphasized that the Government of Israel would not harm freedom of worship for Muslims, just as the Government of Israel would preserve freedom of worship for Jews.
210. On 28 February 2010, Israeli police forces entered the al-Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem and dispersed a crowd of Palestinian youths who had reportedly thrown stones at visitors. On the same day, the Israeli police forces banned Muslim men under the age of 50 years from the site, however, women and non-Muslims could continue visiting the al-Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound. On 5 March 2010, Israeli police and Palestinian youths reportedly clashed again at the al-Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound, resulting in several injuries on both sides.
211. Furthermore, with the authorization and support by Israeli State authorities, the ongoing construction of a museum on a portion of the Ma’man Allah (Mamilla) cemetery in Jerusalem reportedly involves the excavation or exposure of hundreds of graves of this cemetery which has been a Muslim burial ground for more than 1000 years. Concerns have been expressed that the decision to remove and reinter Muslim remains was apparently taken without consulting the relevant Muslim religious authorities or the family members of those interred in Ma’man Allah (Mamilla) cemetery.
212. The Special Rapporteurs asked the Government of Israel to provide information about the current status of the inclusion of Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque in the list of Israeli national heritage sites, including about any consultations the Government had with interested parties and religious communities in this regard. The Special Rapporteurs also requested to be provided with a list of the places which have been designated by the Government of Israel as holy sites so far and with a copy of the text of regulations implementing the 1967 Protection of Holy Sites Law. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteurs asked what measures the Government of Israel has already implemented or envisages implementing in order to ensure that excavations and construction works on Ma’man Allah (Mamilla) cemetery in Jerusalem respect and protect cultural heritage and cultural property as well as freedom of religion or belief.
(b) No response received from the Government
(c) Observations by the Special Rapporteur
213. The Special Rapporteur regrets that he has so far not received a reply from the Government of Israel concerning the above mentioned allegations. He would like to appeal to the Government of Israel to ensure the right to freedom of religion or belief in accordance with articles 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This right includes freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance, either alone or in community with others and in public or private. In addition, he would like to refer to international humanitarian law, which also protects the freedom to practice one’s religion through religious observances, services and rites. With regard to territories of the parties to the conflict and to occupied territories, article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention provides that the protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for “their religious convictions, and practices and their manners and customs”. They must be able to practice their religion freely, without any restrictions other than those necessary for the maintenance of public law and morals.
214. The General Assembly, in its resolution 55/254, calls upon all States to exert their utmost efforts to ensure that religious sites are fully respected and protected in conformity with international standards and in accordance with their national legislation. In the same resolution, the General Assembly encourages all States, relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations and the media to promote, inter alia, through education, a culture of tolerance and respect for the diversity of religions and for religious sites, which represent an important aspect of the collective heritage of humankind.
215. He would also like to refer to the observations concerning places of worship and related recommendations in his predecessor’s report, who visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory in January 2008 (see A/HRC/10/8/Add.2, paras. 25-39 and 76). One of the recommendations to the Government of Israel, with regard to the protection and preservation of religious sites, was to issue as soon as possible non-selective regulations and designate holy sites on a non-discriminatory basis (see A/HRC/10/8/Add.2, para. 77). It was emphasized that the unique spiritual and religious dimension of the holy sites and their importance for believers in the whole world needed to be appropriately taken into account.
2. Communication sent on 5 November 2010 as a follow-up to the Special Rapporteur’s country visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory in January 2008
216. In a follow-up letter of 5 November 2010, the Special Rapporteur reiterated his appreciation for the cooperation of the Government in relation to his predecessor’s visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory from 20 to 27 January 2008. He emphasized that follow-up to country reports was of central importance to the cooperation and dialogue between mandate holders and States. Referring to the report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/13/40, para. 15), the Special Rapporteur indicated that the mandate has re-established the initial approach of sending follow-up letters after visits in order to receive updated information about the implementation of the recommendations at the national level.
217. For ease of reference, the Special Rapporteur transmitted a table containing the conclusions and recommendations in the related mission report (A/HRC/10/8/Add.3) as well as follow-up information from relevant United Nations documents, including from the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, Special Procedures and Treaty Bodies. The Special Rapporteur indicated that he sent this follow-up table also to the Permanent Observation Mission of Palestine to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
218. The Special Rapporteur asked the Government of Israel to provide him with updated information on the consideration given to these recommendations, the steps taken to implement them, and any constraints which may prevent their implementation. This table, including any information provided by the Government, is available online on the Special Rapporteur’s website (www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/religion/visits.htm).