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        General Assembly
19 August 2003

Original: French

Fifty-eighth session
Item 119 (b) of the provisional agenda*
Human rights questions: human rights questions including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms

Elimination of all forms of religious intolerance

Note by the Secretary-General

The Secretary-General has the honour to transmit to the members of the General Assembly the interim report prepared by Abdelfattah Amor, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on freedom of religion or belief, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 57/208 of 18 December 2002.


* A/58/150.

The Special Rapporteur is submitting the present report to the General Assembly pursuant to resolution 57/208 of 18 December 2002.

In the present report, the Special Rapporteur deals with communications sent to States since the publication of the most recent report to the Commission on Human Rights and with the replies received, particularly on questions of interreligious violence, the legal and practical limitations on the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion, problems related to the registration of religious communities, anti-terrorist measures taken against certain religious communities, the role of the press, conscientious objection and protection of religious sites. He also deals with the late replies of States to communications sent before the publication of the most recent report, in situ visits and follow-up, and developments with respect to follow-up of the International Consultative Conference, held in Madrid in November 2001.


I. Introduction

1. At its forty-second session, the Commission on Human Rights decided, by resolution 1986/20 of 10 March 1986, to appoint for one year a special rapporteur to examine incidents and governmental actions in all parts of the world inconsistent with the provisions of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion or Belief, and to recommend remedial measures for such situations.

2. Pursuant to resolution 1986/20, the Special Rapporteur has submitted, since 1994, 10 general reports to the Commission on Human Rights and 8 interim reports to the General Assembly, together with a total of 18 addenda submitted to the Commission or the Assembly. The present report is submitted in accordance with General Assembly resolution 57/208.

3. The Special Rapporteur welcomes the slotting system introduced by the documentation service. This system has enabled the Special Rapporteur to report on a longer period of activity than he did the previous year.

II. Report on communications sent by the Special Rapporteur and replies received from States since the issuance of the report submitted to the Commission on Human Rights at its fifty-ninth session

4. This report covers a total of 41 communications transmitted to 33 States. It also covers the replies of States to these communications (Armenia, Russian Federation, Turkey, Viet Nam) and the replies to communications transmitted in the context of previous reports submitted to the Commission on Human Rights (Pakistan). Lastly, the Special Rapporteur expresses his gratitude to Egypt, the Russian Federation and Uzbekistan for their replies, whose content cannot, for technical reasons, be reflected in the present report. These replies and any received after 1 August 2003 will be covered in his next report to the Commission on Human Rights.

5. In accordance with his methods of work (and the rules governing his mandate), the Special Rapporteur wishes to clarify that the communications sent within the past two months are not summarized in the present report since the time limit given for answers from the States concerned has not expired.

A. Communications sent by the Special Rapporteur since the submission of his report to the Commission and replies received from States



62. By letter dated 11 April 2003, the Special Rapporteur informed the Government of Israel of a report that on 22 August 2002 the Israeli police had arrested Archimandrite Theodosios Hanna, spokesman of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and had charged him with illegal entry of an enemy country and relations with terrorist organizations.

63. The Special Rapporteur has also been informed that the Israeli authorities have still not recognized the canonical election in August 2001 of His Holiness Ireneos, Patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem.

64. Lastly, the Special Rapporteur has been informed that in January 2003 Israeli forces prevented over 800 Palestinians on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia from leaving the Gaza Strip.

65. The Special Rapporteur awaits a reply from the Israeli authorities and stresses the need for Israel to ensure respect for the right of all persons to freedom of religion.


V. Conclusions and recommendations

132. The communications referred to in the present report and States’ replies show that, nearly two years later, the events of 11 September 2001 have had a profound impact on the exercise of human rights, especially the right to freedom of religion or belief. Some of the positive trends mentioned in the report submitted to the General Assembly in 2001 (A/56/253) have not been pursued and new problems have arisen. This means that any study of States’ conduct with respect to matters directly or indirectly related to freedom of religion or belief must inevitably take into account the events of 11 September 2001 as an essential benchmark.

133. A distinction must be made between States’ direct violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief and measures taken by them in response to acts of intolerance, discrimination and religious violence committed by non-State actors or entities.

134. First, many States have taken the simplistic view that, since religions are at the root of many terrorist acts, the most direct means of preventing such acts is to limit the existence of religion and have focused their genuinely or purportedly counter-terrorist activities on limiting the exercise of civil and political rights, including the right to freedom of religion or belief. By choosing that path, these States have clearly misinterpreted the non-derogable nature of the right to freedom of religion or belief under article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that even “in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation” no derogation is permitted from article 18 of the Covenant (see also General Comment 22 of the Human Rights Committee). Specifically, it appears that, by imposing restrictions which in practice were equivalent to actual derogations, at least in their effects, various State authorities have often failed to understand the essential difference between the restrictions that can be made under specific conditions and for specific purposes under article 18, paragraph 3, of the Covenant and the non-derogable nature of the right to freedom of religion or belief.

135. In this connection, the Special Rapporteur has observed a new upsurge in administrative regulations on freedom of religion; many States, especially those of Central Asia, have used the compulsory registration of religious groups and the imposition of specific regulations governing them to restrict the exercise of freedom of religion or belief, often in violation of the international standards concerning the right to freedom of religion or belief. On several occasions, the Special Rapporteur has pointed out that registration procedures can be legitimate and consistent with international law on freedom of religion only if they are specified by law, objective, reasonable and transparent and, consequently, if they do not have the aim or the result of creating discrimination; naturally, refusals to register must be well-founded and subject to judicial review.

136. The Special Rapporteur has also noted that in some cases the events of 11 September 2001 have been used to legitimate, and even to strengthen, pre-existing policies for the persecution of religious groups.

137. Second, terrorist acts together with security measures taken by States have strengthened many people’s isolationism, which focuses on religion and promotes distrust, intolerance and even rejection of others and is expressed through religion-based discrimination at all levels. Advocacy of or incitement to hatred in violation of article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and acts of violence against members of religious minorities have also become increasingly common. In this regard, it should be noted that many States have not met their human rights obligations. These are not limited to the negative obligation to refrain from violating the right to freedom of religion or belief; they also include the positive obligation to protect persons in their territory from violations of their right to freedom of religion or belief committed by non-State actors or entities by prosecuting those who commit such violations and providing compensation to the victims.

138. Stressing that women and children are still too often the victims of acts of discrimination and religious violence, the Special Rapporteur is particularly concerned at the sometimes negative role played by the press in the spread of religious intolerance. The media continue to promote an often incorrect, negative image of certain religious groups and have sometimes incited hatred of many such groups, including Muslims.

139. Generally speaking, the Special Rapporteur notes that in many cases, rather than protecting the right to freedom of religion or belief, States have used the pretext of security in response to terrorist threats to limit the exercise of that right. Security of person, which is a fundamental principle inherent in human rights, has come to be identified with State security; while understandable in some cases, this shift is nonetheless harmful to the protection of human rights in general and of the right to freedom of religion or belief in particular.

140. Looking to the future, this general trend has also highlighted the fact that States have focused on restricting civil and political rights at the expense of economic, social and cultural rights such as the right to education, which is essential for teaching a culture of tolerance and non-discrimination and is part of an overall prevention policy. On this matter, the Special Rapporteur wishes to draw attention to the conclusions and recommendations contained in his 1995 report to the General Assembly, in which he stressed that all human rights are interdependent with democracy and development and, in connection with the development of a culture of tolerance, “the importance of prevention in the effort to end intolerance and discrimination, hatred and violence, including violence motivated by religious extremism. The alarming number of attacks on persons ... shows the overwhelming need to act at the prevention level” (A/50/440, para. 83). This need is made all the more pressing by the fact that States’ counter-terrorism measures have not addressed the real causes of the problem.

141. In conclusion, the Special Rapporteur hopes that, in facing their genuine security problems, States will fully respect their fundamental obligations in the area of civil and political rights and will take the opportunity to focus on the promotion of rights which make it possible to adopt an essentially preventive approach, attacking the root causes of extremism and intolerance rather than in their overt manifestations. Once again, action in the area of education and culture is a requirement and a prerequisite for any effort to combat extremism and intolerance; to do otherwise would constitute a mere reactive response with no impact on the future.


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