UNHRC Special Rapporteur: Report on freedom of religion or belief

The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief is an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). In December 2012, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt,  published a report focusing on the need to respect and protect  freedom of religion or belief of persons belonging to religious minorities.

In his conceptual observations on this issue, he emphasizes that the rights of persons belonging to religious minorities should be consistently interpreted and implemented from a human rights perspective. Unlike some concepts of minority protection which were often developed historically in the framework of bilateral or multilateral peace negotiations, the human rights-based approach takes respect for the self-understanding of human beings as its systematic starting point.

The Special Rapporteur further points out that, in keeping with the principle of normative universalism, the rights of persons belonging to religious minorities cannot be confined to the members of certain predefined groups. Instead, they should be open to all persons who live de facto in the situation of a minority and are in need of special protection to facilitate a free and non-discriminatory development of their individual and communitarian identities.

The Special Rapporteur further describes patterns of typical violations of freedom of religion or belief of persons belonging to religious minorities perpetrated by States and/or non-State actors which show various problems that require concerted action. The report concludes with a list of recommendations concerning general policies, domestic legal provisions, administration and procedures, education, media, interreligious communication and awareness-raising in protecting and promoting the freedom of religion or belief of persons belonging to religious minorities.

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