Inclusive approach needed to embrace religious diversity in Denmark – UN expert

Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Heiner Bielefeldt. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

22 March 2016 – While appraising Denmark as a liberal country that values and respects freedom and religion, an independent United Nations human rights expert today also addressed challenges Danish society faces, especially towards “an open, inclusive” identity and religious diversity.

“It is the responsibility of the Government to take the lead in developing a more inclusive understanding of Danish identity,” Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, stressed at the end of his nine-day official visit to the country.

“I value that Denmark, which has quickly evolved from religious homogeneity to a diverse society, respects everyone's right to freely practice their religion, both in private and in public,” the human rights expert said.

He also acknowledged efforts to promote dialogue among religious and non-religious groups. The Established Church of Denmark, usually called “Folkekirke,” in particular, has contributed to shaping an inclusive society in the country.

However, in order to reinforce Denmark's liberal approach to freedom of religion or belief, Mr. Bielefeldt underscored the importance of preventing feelings of stigmatization and exclusion among religious minorities.

He noted widespread trends towards associating Muslims with extremism and terrorism. “Some voices … suggest that Danishness and Islam mutually exclude each other,” he stressed. While adding that “the Jewish Community, which traditionally feels very much at home in Denmark, sees itself exposed to hostility concerning religiously motivated circumcision of boys.”

Therefore, “working for more mutual understanding between different religious and non-religious (“secular”) groups and currents in the society” should be one of the top priorities, said Mr. Bielefeldt.

He further urged institutional reforms within the Folkekirke and its procedure of acknowledging religious communities.

Another action suggested by the human rights expert is to maintain a broad understanding of freedom of religion or belief in line with European and international standards.

“Obviously, it is a long-term task, which involves issues like school education, interreligious dialogue and other forms of inter-group communication, anti-discrimination policies and integration programmes,” said Mr. Bielefeldt.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.


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