Jan 31 2019
Past event

Lifting religion-based reservations as a means of strengthening women’s rights: The key role of women’s rights movements in the MENA region

Reservations to the core human rights treaties, entered at the time of ratification, are extremely widespread and, because they have direct implications for a State’s obligations under international law, have real and immediate consequences for the level of protection afforded to human rights at the domestic level.

In 2017, URG published the results of a global study on reservations and their impact on the enjoyment of human rights. URG’s policy report shows that States have entered reservations to all seven of the core human rights conventions, but that two conventions in particular – the Convention on the elimination of discrimination against women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the rights of the child (CRC) – are the focus of the highest number of reservations. Moreover, many of the reservations entered to CEDAW and CRC, at the time of ratification, are inspired by concerns, on the part of the ratifying State, that elements of the conventions are incompatible with religious belief, doctrine or law. These ‘religion-based’ reservations, which have been entered by countries with majority Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist populations, provide an interesting lens through which to view on-going debates about the universality of human rights.

Notwithstanding, URG’s research also found a growing trend towards the lifting of these ‘religion-based’ reservations in a number of States, especially member States of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The vast majority of these reservations came as the result of campaigns by women’s rights and other NGOs. Just as the extension of reservations has significant negative implications for human rights, so the lifting of reservations is extremely positive – both reflecting and embedding in law important societal changes and political reform.

In January 2019, URG organised, with the support of the Government of Germany, a workshop in Tunis for human rights defenders, NGOs and NHRIs from the MENA region. The aim of the workshop was to raise awareness about States’ obligations under the international human rights treaties, and to exchange best civil society practice in how to organise national campaigns to press governments to lift reservations as a contribution to strengthening the enjoyment of human rights.

On 31 January, URG, together with the Permanent Missions of Germany and Denmark, will organise a panel discussion to share the results of the Tunis workshop, discuss the impact of religion-based reservations to the human rights treaties, and to share national experiences in the lifting of reservations, especially in OIC countries such as Tunisia and Morocco.


Light breakfast reception

Welcome remarks
Mr Ralf Schröer, Head of Political and Humanitarian Affairs of the Permanent Mission of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Office of the United Nations and to the other International Organizations in Geneva

Presentation of policy report and results of Tunis workshop
Mr Marc Limon, Executive Director of the Universal Rights Group

Panel discussion

  • His Excellency Mr Walid Doudech, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Tunisia to the United Nations Office at Geneva and specialized institutions in Switzerland
  • Her Excellency Ms Ambassador Nassima Baghli, Ambassador and Permanent Observer of the Permanent Delegation of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva
  • His Excellency Mr Michael Suhr, Ambassador, Special Representative for Religious Freedom and Belief, Denmark (TBC)
  • Mr Ibrahim Salama, Chief, Human Rights Treaties branch, OHCHR
  • Ms Diane Ala’I, Representative of the Bahá’í International Community, United Nations Office in Geneva

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