Thursday, September 25, 2008

Holy See calls on UN for a new approach to combating religious intolerance

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the representative of the Holy See in Geneva has called upon the UN Human Rights Council to "refocus its reflection away from the vague sociological concept of ‘defamation of religions’ to the juridical norm of non-incitement to national, racial or religious hatred, and to the rights well summed up in the International Covenant on Civil, Cultural and Political Rights" [1]

The statement comes after several weeks of anti-Christian violence in the Indian state of Orissa. The Holy See, expressing its concern that religious minorities are being targetted, notes that "in recent weeks, and in several geographical regions, the international community has witnessed, an intensified expression of religious intolerance that violates the basic human rights of persons of one or another faith conviction. Places of worship have been set on fire and desecrated. Thousands of people have been forcibly uprooted, and their homes have been destroyed. Family members wounded, and even killed, simply because they profess their own religion. Others have been detained on false accusations. Impunity for these crimes, as is often the case, gives the message that violent aggression against, and even the physical elimination of, people from a different faith conviction is acceptable."

Archbishop Tomasi emphasised that "A juridical and positive approach will avoid harmful, unintended consequences for society, and for members of minority religions, brought about by religious defamation laws where they are in place. For example, in several cases, blasphemy laws have been used as weapons against personal enemies or as an excuse to incite mob violence. Such actions result in polarizing religious communities, rather than in promoting tolerance. The Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, and the instruments on which it is based, could serve as a framework for a new treaty, or as a framework for developing a declaration on guidelines, standards and good practices."

[1] Art.18, “ 1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. 2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice. 3. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. 4. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”