In focus: human rights and religion

A major thematic focus of the Group in its first two years is human rights and religion

Many of the most important and intractable human rights challenges facing the world today are closely interlinked with religion and belief. Failure to protect freedom of conscience, the enduring problem of religious intolerance and incitement to religious hatred, as well as widespread misunderstandings about the nature of the relationship between religion and universal freedoms, all act as a major break on achieving progress towards the full realisation of human rights. Therefore, over the course of a two-year cycle, the Group will look at different aspects of the relationship between religion and human rights, by producing a series of reports and organising related consultations, dialogues and events.

The URG’s goal is to uphold the universality of human rights by demonstrating that religion and belief are inherently compatible with the enjoyment of human rights, and in-so-doing promote mutual understanding and tolerance.

Our projects

Combatting intolerance, discrimination and incitement based on religion or belief

The main UN global policy framework for combatting religious intolerance, stigmatisation, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief is set down in Council resolution 16/18. Resolution 16/18 was adopted by consensus in March 2011, and hailed by stakeholders from all regions and faiths as a turning point in international efforts to confront religious intolerance. After more than five decades of failure, UN member states had, it was hoped, at last come together to agree a common, consensus-based approach and practical plan of action.

Four years on, and against the aforementioned backdrop of heightened religious hostility, UN consensus around the ‘16/18 framework’ is at breaking point. Rather than working together to implement the 16/18 action plan, states have returned to pre-2011 arguments over the nature of the problem, the correct role of the international community, and whether the solution to intolerance lies in strengthening the enjoyment of fundamental human rights or in setting clearer limits thereon.

This project aims to help put the 16/18 framework ‘back on track’ by providing an impartial assessment of levels of implementation, offering recommendations for strengthened compliance in the future and providing a platform for dialogue to strengthen consensus.

Religion-based reservations to the human rights conventions

A number of states have entered reservations to articles of core human rights conventions on the grounds that national laws, traditions, religion or culture are not in line with the principles outlined in the respective treaty.

This project looks to analyse, understand and generate awareness as to the extent, impact and necessity of religion-based reservations to the core human rights conventions. The project will also, building on this analysis, establish a dialogue between states on the subject and create the conditions under which states can consider reviewing or removing such reservations.

Preventing Violent Extremism

Starting in April 2016, the URG is implementing a project to better understand the role of the international human rights system in preventing violent extremism, and to assess how the UN’s growing work on CVE/PVE ‘fits’ with other related areas of UN work – such as initiatives to combat religious discrimination and intolerance, to protect human rights while countering terrorism, and human rights education. The project will seek to provide recommendations to policymakers in order to promote the emergence of a strong and coherent UN response that effectively prevents violent extremism and promotes the full enjoyment of human rights.