Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

29 October 2013

Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

29 October 2013
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief


In order to enhance human rights, Governments and civil society should encourage a synergy between the freedom of religion or belief and gender equality, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief said at a Headquarters press conference today.

Heiner Bielefedt, who had presented his report to the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, emphasized that, “harmful practices inflicted on women or girls can never be justified in the name of freedom of religion or belief.”  (See Press Release GA/SHC/4080.)

“Countless women are exposed to complex forms of human rights violations based on both religion or belief and their sex,” he said.  Forced conversion and forced marriage were grave abuse of human rights.  However, in a number of countries, women and girls from religious minorities ran the risk of being forced to convert to mainstream religion in connection with an unwanted marriage.

He called for an all-inclusive human rights approach in order to address the complex forms of problems that arose at the intersection between freedom of religion or belief and equality of men and women.  He offered a number of recommendations to uphold the universal spirit of human rights, including integrating gender perspectives into programmes designed to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief, as well as freedom of expression.

Responding to questions, Mr. Bielefeldt acknowledged that Jewish and Muslim minorities in some European countries were being discriminated against in exercising their rights to worship and belief.  He stressed the need to respect those rights and traditions to promote harmony and good relationships.

On Sharia law, he encouraged Muslim nations to provide space for different interpretations and voices, noting that most of those countries had ratified various conventions on human rights, especially on women, and they were obligated to respect them.

He cited Sierra Leone, where he saw religious harmony, open-mindedness and cooperation between different religions and sects in neighbourhoods, schools and parts of the country.

Responding to a question on Buddhist extremisms in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, he lamented the situation that Muslims in those countries were facing and called for interfaith dialogue to resolve religious differences and promote tolerance and mutual understanding among the people.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.