Freedom Of Religion Urges Activism Towards Freedom Of Religion As A Human Rights Issue

Article 18 Freedom Of Religion

The ‘All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief’ has launched activism site to argue that Freedom of Religion is a fundamental human right.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief exists to raise awareness and profile of international freedom of religion or belief as a human right among Parliamentarians, media, government and the general public in the UK, and to increase the effectiveness of the UK’s contribution to international institutions charged with enforcing this human right.

What is Article 18?

Download's Article 18 Report
Download’s Article 18 Report
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948. It was born of the international community’s determination to never again witness the atrocities that were perpetrated against human beings during the Second World War. Therefore, alongside the UN Charter document, world leaders drew up a road map to guarantee the rights of individuals across the globe.

The Chairman of the UDHR drafting committee was Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had consistently argued that freedom of religion was one of the four essential freedoms of mankind.

The UDHR, with its total of 30 articles, was presented not as a legally binding instrument but as an aspirational document outlining essential guidelines on fundamental human rights, and with the stated objective of realizing “a common standard of achievement for all peoples of all nations.” Eight nations from the assembly abstained from the vote to adopt the document, but none dissented.

Although initially not envisaged as creating binding legal obligations, Article 18 has over time acquired a normative character within general international law, arguably binding all states. It established a platform for articulating and elaborating the provisions on freedom of religion and religious non-discrimination in the (1966) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the (1966) International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which together are known as the “International Bill of Rights.”

Article 18 – An Orphaned Right’s first report examines the abuse of Article 18 rights worldwide, and what the British Government can do.

It presents an overview of freedom of religion and belief in international law, the nature and reality of its abuse around the world today, how the British Government has engaged with the issue and what it can do further to advance this fundamental right.

The report was written on behalf of the APPG by Professor Malcolm Evans, Professor Javaid Rehman, Ziya Meral, Dr Nazila Ghanea, Katherine Cash and Dr. Sean Oliver Dee. It was edited by Kay Carter.

Why Article 18 Matters

Freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental right which may not be abandoned or ignored, even in times of public emergency. It protects traditional, non-traditional and new religious beliefs and practices, as well as numerous beliefs not associated with divine or transcendent powers, or not of a religious nature.

Everyone has the freedom to manifest their religion or belief, either alone or together with others, publicly or privately. Nobody is to be subject to coercion that would impair the individual’s freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of their choice, nor is discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief permissible.

Freedom Of Religion

The Reality

However, 76% of the world’s population live in countries with high levels of government restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, or where they face high-level hostility due to their religious affiliations, and this figure is rising. Across the globe there is widespread denial of freedom of worship, and of freedom to teach, promote and publicly express one’s religion or belief.

Article 18 remains the benchmark against which the enjoyment of the freedom of religion or belief should be measured. But despite the best efforts of many, freedom of religion or belief is not currently being protected internationally as it ought.
Unlike many other human rights, there is as yet no focussed United Nations (UN) Convention directly addressing the subject of freedom of religion or belief. In consequence, freedom of religion or belief has for many years been something of a ‘residual’ right, only protected to the extent that it does not stand in the way of achieving some other goal or ambition. While the UN Vienna Declaration of 1993 asserts that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and inter-related, in practice within the family of human rights this freedom remains on the margins. It is in this respect ‘an orphaned right’.
Across the globe there are all too many examples of state intimidation, discrimination and violence towards people on account of their religion or belief, as well as situations where states do not offer adequate protection from persecution by non-state actors. This is not limited to any one region, or any one form of religion.

This catalogue of abuse covers Shia Muslims in Bahrain, Baha’is and Zoroastrians in Iran, Christians across large swathes of the Middle East, Sufi muslims from the Sunni tradition in Somalia, atheists in Indonesia, Falun Gong practitioners in China, Buddhists in Tibet, Jewish people in Europe and Hindus in Pakistan — truly a global concern that affects the full range of religious and non-religious belief.

While we note that a particularly heavy price is being paid by Christians, we also recognise that persecution is not confined to any particular tradition, but is common to all the major faiths, as well as many newer and less well-known beliefs, and those people who reject religion entirely.

Defamation Of Religions

While the UN has declared that everyone has the right to freedom of religion or belief, it has done relatively little to make this a reality. Much of the work at the UN has been focussed on a very different question, the so-called ‘defamation of religions’ debate, which focuses on protecting religions —not believers — from criticism, and becomes a means of restricting rights and freedoms, rather than safeguarding them.

We are convinced that the focus of the UN ought to be less on when it might be appropriate to restrain rights in the name of religion, and more on encouraging and supporting international action to champion freedom of religion or belief for all. Alongside this it is necessary to identify effective UK policy and action aimed at achieving the same goals.

What is an All-Party Group?

An All-Party Parliamentary Group is made up of Parliamentarians (MPs and Members of the House of Lords) who share a particular interest in a subject and wish to co-ordinate their work around this issue. They are informal, cross-party groups that have no official status within Parliament and are not accorded any powers or funding by it; they should not be confused with select committees, which are formal institutions of the House.

In 2012 a Speakers’ Working Group noted that these groups “are an effective way for Members of both Houses to inform themselves about specific subjects, to respond to outside concerns, and to have direct contact with external audiences”.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has clearly stated that the defence of freedom of religion or belief worldwide is a priority for its work. Thus the issue of international freedom of religion or belief is very firmly on the Parliamentary agenda, and Parliamentarians have significant opportunities to support and advance this right.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on International Freedom of Religion or Belief was established in July 2012 with the following purpose:

“To raise awareness and profile of international freedom of religion or belief as a human right amongst parliamentarians, media, government and the general public in the UK; and to increase effectiveness and awareness of the UK’s contribution to international institutions charged with enforcing this human right.”

The Facts

There has been a dramatic increase in religious persecution worldwide in the past six years. 5.3 billion people (76% of the world’s population) live in countries with a high or very high level of restrictions on religion. An official US government report states “religious freedom abuses occur daily around the world for people of all faiths and none.”

A 2014 study by the Pew Research Center examined the years 2007-12 and concluded that religious hostilities had increased in every major region of the world except the Americas. The sharpest increase was in the Middle East and North Africa, impacted by the Arab Spring.

  • 29% of all countries had a high or very high level of government restrictions
  • 39% of countries had seen violence, or the threat of violence, used to compel people to adhere to religious norms
  • 32% of countries experienced harassment of women over religious dress/li>
  • 25% of countries witnessed mob violence related to religion
  • 20% of countries experienced religion-related terrorist violence.

The study also reported an increase in the level of harassment or intimidation of particular religious groups. Two of the seven major religious groups monitored by the study – Muslims and Jews – experienced six-year highs in the number of countries in which they were harassed by national, provincial or local governments, or by individuals or groups in society. As in previous years, Christians and Muslims – who together make up more than half of the global population – were harassed in the largest number of countries (110 and 109, respectively).

Read the Pew Research Center report here.

Freedom of Religion Take Action

Take Action includes a section that enables those who support Freedom Of Religion to take action in defending this basic human right via a number of links and tools they provide. Click here for more information on how you can help.

Who Supports


  • Baroness Berridge


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