The Official Blog of the

Archive for the ‘Religious Freedom’ Category

UN Fact-finding Report: The Yazidis of Iraq

In Children's Rights, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Religious Freedom, Solidarity on March 21, 2015 at 9:17 PM

UN FACT-FINDING REPORT: THE YAZIDIS OF IRAQ

By René Wadlow

On Thursday, March 19, 2015, the United Nations (UN) investigative team on human rights violations in Iraq led by Ms. Suki Nagra raised accusations of genocide and war crimes against the Islamic State (ISIS) citing evidence that ISIS sought to “destroy the Yazidi as a group” − the definition of genocide in the 1948 Genocide Convention which has become a core element of World Law. The fact-finding group of members of the Secretariat of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had been established by a Special Session of the Human Rights Council in September 2014. (See article ‘World Law Advanced by UN Special Session of the Human Rights Council on Human Rights Violations in Iraq’)

The report to the current session of the Human Rights Council included testimony from Yazidi men who had survived massacres by shielding themselves behind the bodies of men who had already been killed. “It was quite clear that attacks against them were not just spontaneous or happened out of the blue; they were clearly orchestrated. Witnesses consistently reported that orders were coming through, by telephone in many cases, about what to do with them. There was a clear chain of command”.  Ms. Nagra reported to the Human Rights Council. (On the Yazidis as a religious community, see the article ‘Iraq: Yazidis’ Genocide?’)

The report also detailed evidence that Yazidi women and girls were abducted and sold into slavery as spoils of war in violation of some of the oldest standards of world law against slavery developed by the League of Nations and continued by the UN. There were also repeated cases of rape. The use of rape as a weapon of war has become of increasing concern to both the UN human rights bodies and to NGOs.

As the Association of World Citizens’ (AWC) written Statement to the Iraq Special Session stressed, “The Association of World Citizens believes that world law as developed by the United Nations applies not only to the governments of Member States but also to individuals and non-governmental organizations. The ISIS has not been recognized as a State and is not a member of the UN. Nevertheless, the Association of World Citizens is convinced that the terms of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief adopted by the General Assembly on 25 November 1981 applies to the ISIS.”

Citizens of the World stress the need for world law and certain common values among all the States and peoples of the world. We are one humanity with a shared destiny. The challenge before us requires inclusive ethical values. Such values must be based on a sense of common responsibility for both present and future generations.

Prof. René Wadlow is President and Chief Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.

The Cultural Heritage of Iraq and Syria: “Destroyed by Human Ignorance – Rebuilt by Human Hope”

In Being a World Citizen, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Religious Freedom, The Search for Peace on March 3, 2015 at 9:25 PM

THE CULTURAL HERITAGE OF IRAQ AND SYRIA: DESTROYED BY HUMAN IGNORANCE – REBUILT BY HUMAN HOPE”

By René Wadlow

On Friday, February 27, 2015, the United Nations (UN) Security Council condemned “the deliberate destruction of irreplaceable religious and cultural artifacts housed in the Mosul Museum and burning of thousands of books and rare manuscripts from the Mosul Library” and having burned a few days earlier thousands of books from the Mosul, Iraq, University Library. The Mosul Museum which was not yet open to the public had a large number of statues from the pre-Islamic Mesopotamian civilizations as well as statues from the Greek Hellenistic period. The spokesman for the Islamic State (ISIS) faction which carried out the destruction − filmed and posted on the internet by them − maintained that the statues represented gods which had been worshipped while only the true god should receive worship.

This approach to pre-Islamic faiths and their material culture is the same as had led to the destruction of the large Buddha statues in Afghanistan − monuments that attested to the rich culture along the Silk Road.

There have been iconoclastic movements in the past, especially among Muslims and early Protestants holding that the spiritual world cannot (and thus should not) be represented in forms. All forms lead to confusing the specific form with the spiritual formless energy behind it. The iconoclastic reasoning can be defended, but not the destruction of objects which represented other philosophies, cultures and levels of understanding. (1)

As if to drive home to the least philosophical in the area, the ISIS also attacked Assyrian Christian villages in the area; villages were emptied, persons taken as hostages and younger women forced into slavery. The Assyrian Christians are among the oldest of the Christian communities; some speak Aramaic, the language spoken at the time of Jesus.

The shameless destruction by ISIS members of historical treasures Iraq will never be able to get back.

The shameless destruction by ISIS members of historical treasures Iraq will never be able to get back.

There are world laws against slavery going back to the abolitionist movements of the 1800s and made universal by conventions of the League of Nations and the UN. These conventions are rarely cited except in discussions of the current trafficking of persons as a “modern form of slavery”. Now ISIS has given us examples of slavery in its old forms, nearly to the point of caricature. We need to dust off these conventions and see that they are applied.

Syria and Iraq are home to some of the world’s first cities, a complex and unique meeting of states, empires and faiths. The protection of works of art and cultural heritage is a newer aspect of world law in which UNESCO is playing a leading role. Until the filming and posting of the destruction in Mosul, the looting of museums in Apamea, Aleppo and Raqqa as well as numerous archaeological sites had been known to specialists but had not gained wide public attention. Most of the looted objects were not destroyed but sold on a parallel international art market to fill the ISIS coffers. There is a need to develop global awareness and to campaign against this illicit trade in looted Syrian and Iraqi artifacts which first pass through the neighboring countries of Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan before ending in the hands of dealers and small auction houses who also profit from the theft.

The protection of cultural heritage owes much to the vision and energy of the Russian artist Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947). Roerich’s desire to make known the artistic achievements of the past through archaeology, coupled with the need to preserve the landmarks of the past from destruction, led to his work for the Banner of Peace to preserve art and architecture in time of war. Roerich had seen the destruction brought by the First World War and the civil war which followed the 1917 Russian Revolution. He worked with French international lawyers to draft a treaty by which museums, churches and buildings of value would be preserved in time of war through the use of a symbol − three red circles representing past, present and future − a practice inspired by the red cross to protect medical personnel in times of conflict.

In the areas it has conquered, ISIS has established formal slavery, including for girls as sex slaves.

In the areas it has conquered, ISIS has established formal slavery, including for girls as sex slaves. (C) CNN

Roerich mobilized artists and intellectuals in the 1920s for the establishment of this Banner of Peace. Henry A. Wallace, the United States Secretary of Agriculture and later Vice-President, was an admirer of Roerich and helped to have an official treaty introducing the Banner of Peace − the Roerich Peace Pact − signed at the White House on April 15, 1935 by 21 States in a Pan-American Union ceremony. At the signing, Henry Wallace on behalf of the USA said “At no time has such an ideal been more needed. It is high time for the idealists who make the reality of tomorrow, to rally around such a symbol of international cultural unity. It is time that we appeal to that appreciation of beauty, science, education which runs across all national boundaries to strengthen all that we hold dear in our particular governments and customs. Its acceptance signifies the approach of a time when those who truly love their own nation will appreciate in addition the unique contribution of other nations and also do reverence to that common spiritual enterprise which draws together in one fellowship all artists, scientists, educators and truly religious of whatever faith.”

As Nicholas Roerich said in a presentation of his Pact “The world is striving toward peace in many ways and everyone realizes in his heart that this constructive work is a true prophesy of the New Era. We deplore the loss of the libraries of Louvain and Oviedo and the irreplaceable beauty of the Cathedral of Reims. We remember the beautiful treasures of private collections which were lost during world calamities. But we do not want to inscribe on these deeds any words of hatred. Let us simply say: Destroyed by human ignorance − rebuilt by human hope.”

After the Second World War, UNESCO has continued these efforts, and there have been additional conventions on the protection of cultural and educational bodies in times of conflict, in particular the Hague Convention of May 1954, though no universal symbol as proposed by Nicholas Roerich has been developed.

In 2001 Afghanistan's Taleban militia, an "early version" of ISIS, blew up the magnificent Buddha statues of Bamiyan, thinking this would help them strengthen their implacable grip on the country. This most unwise move only hastened their downfall.

In 2001 Afghanistan’s Taleban militia, an “early version” of ISIS, blew up the magnificent Buddha statues of Bamiyan, thinking this would help them strengthen their implacable grip on the country. This most unwise move only hastened their downfall. (C) RAWA

As too often, governments and people react after events rather than affirm from a deeper level of consciousness. Now, we have seen mindless but deliberate destruction of both art and people. Let us not inscribe on these deeds any words of hatred, but let us work unitedly and creatively to establish a just peace.

Prof. René Wadlow is President and Chief Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.

(1) A good overview of iconoclastic movements in the non-Muslim world see: Alain Besancon, L’Image interdite. Une histoire intellectuelle de l’iconoclasme (Paris: Gallimard, 1994, 722pp.)

Boko Haram: The Long Shadow of Usman dan Fodio

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Religious Freedom on February 13, 2015 at 9:58 PM

BOKO HARAM: THE LONG SHADOW OF USMAN DAN FODIO

By René Wadlow

There has been growing concern with the activities of Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria and its spillover into northern Cameroon, Niger, and in the Lake Chad area. There has been a recent conference of the African Union on the issue, and military units from Chad, Cameroon and Niger are linking up with the Nigerian army to counter the growing power of the organization and its possible links with the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq-Syria. The practice of forced marriage, the slavery of women and girls, and arbitrary killing – including beheading – has led many to flee the area. This has resulted in a large number of displaced people, often living in difficult situations.

Boko Haram is not the first militant, anti-establishment Islamic movement in northern Nigeria and northern Cameroon. In the early 1980s, an Islamic sect, the Yan Tatsine unleashed an armed insurrection against the Nigerian security forces, especially in the Kano area. The revolts were led (or at least influenced by) a wandering preacher, Mohammed Marwa Maitatsine. Maitatsine was a nickname added to the family name of Marwa. The nickname originated from the Hausa word “tsini” meaning “to damn”. While preaching, he would name his enemies and their lifestyle and end with the phrase ‘Allah ta tsini” (May God damn you), thus the name “the one who damns”. Maitatsine, like Boko Haram, damned all those who enjoyed Western consumer goods, automobiles, radio, watches, and especially Western education, which was an avenue to these goods.

As with Boko Haram, there were ideological, economic and social aspects to the movement as well as reactions to the brutality of the Nigerian army’s efforts to weaken or destroy the movement. In the case of Mohammed Marwa, his control of territory was largely limited to the city of Kano, and he was killed by Nigerian security forces relatively quickly after the start of the armed attacks of his movement. However, the socio-economic conditions which led to the rise of his movement have continued and have produced smaller and less violent currents until the creation around 2002 of Boko Haram, first as a sect closed in on itself in an isolated area of Borno State in northeast Nigeria, and then for the last four years as an armed insurgency holding an ever-larger territory − or at least creating insecurity in ever larger areas.

For the current leader of Boko Haram, Abubaka Shekau, as well as for others in the movement, Usman dan Fodio (also written as Usuman) and his 1804-1808 jihad is the model to be followed. Although radically different in many ways, Boko Haram is part of the long shadow of Usman dan Fodio and the creation of the Sokoto Caliphate, the largest state in West Africa in the nineteenth century. Toyin Falola describes the background to the jihad:

“The background to the jihad was a crisis in the Hausa states and Islamic leaders’ resort to Islam to reform society. During the eighteenth century, Hausa society witnessed conflicts between one state and another, between Muslims and non-Muslims, between rich and poor. The states were heterogeneous and highly developed with established kingships, talented Islamic scholars and jurists. Succession disputes were endemic while ambition for political domination was common. Gofir state in the northwest emerged as a dominant power, but not without costly and ruthless wars. Merchants and kings grew wealthy, and their ostentatious living displeased the poor and devout Muslims. Methods of wealth accumulation involved corruption and unjust treatment of the poor. Taxes and levies could be excessive, demand for free labor ruinous, enslavement was common and conscription for military service was indiscriminate. The practice of Islam was not always strict: many were Muslims only in name, traditional religion was synthesized with Islam in a way that displeased devout preachers and only a small minority committed itself to spreading the religion”. (1)

Dan Fodio (1754-1817) was a Peul (plu. Fulani) and thus a member of a minority within the largely Hausa area. However, the Fulani are found throughout West Africa. Prior to 1800, there had been a gradual influx of Fulani into northern Nigeria, a migration which had spread over several centuries and which involved people who were ethnically and linguistically distinct from the Hausa. During the earlier migratory phases, they were largely pastoral herdsmen but increasingly they settled in Hausa towns.

As an educated Peul, dan Fodio felt excluded from political power as did other Fulani. The jihad and the distribution of power that followed led to the Sokoto Caliphate − a sort of unified theocracy. Old Hausa dynasties were replaced by new local leaders, mainly Fulani emirs. The caliphate was headed by a sultan, based in Sokoto, while local emirates were governed by an emir. The appointment of each emir had to be ratified by the sultan. Thus was created a Fulani-Hausa political area with elements still in place today.

Dan Fodio, often referred to as Shehu, was an educated preacher who gathered around him students who became the core of his jihad army. Dan Fodio knew the history of Islam and wanted to recreate the Muslim community of the time of the first four Caliphs, thought of as the ‘Golden Age of Islam’. He thus broke down the existing Hausa state system of some 15 separate states into a loosely organized Fulani-Hausa confederation of some 30 emirates with loyalty beyond the clan and the traditional ruler within the embrace of a common religion.

The Sokoto Caliphate, which spanned much of the northern halves of today's nations of Nigeria and Cameroon.

The Sokoto Caliphate, which spanned much of the northern halves of today’s nations of Nigeria and Cameroon.

Two features tended to characterize the emirate system. First, there was virtually no distinction between religious and political authority. The emir possessed both. Second, politics was conducted in an essentially despotic fashion. The common man was subservient to the emir and was dependent on his benevolence. The Fulani jihad fell short of establishing the just Islamic theocracy it had purported to create. Many saw the jihad as a road to power rather than to the purity of religious practice.

Boko Haram has kept the use of flags and flag bearers from Dan Fodio’s jihad as well as the arbitrary killing and indiscriminate marauding. In Boko Haram, there seem to be few Islamic scholars in their ranks, but there do seem to be some who have been to Islamic schools. The future from today is very uncertain. It is unlikely that there is a “military answer.”

Neither Boko Haram nor ISIS/Daesh should be confused with the Islamic faith. These two militant groups give Islam a bad name and do not speak for the world's Muslims.

Neither Boko Haram nor ISIS/Daesh should be confused with the Islamic faith in any way. These two militant groups do not speak for the world’s Muslims and only give Islam a bad name.

Changes in socio-economic conditions are likely to take a long time. From a distance, it is difficult to see how good faith negotiations can be carried out between governments and Boko Haram. Long shadows can last for centuries, but we must keep trying to see how negotiations can be carried out and if non-governmental organizations can play an intermediary role.

Prof. René Wadlow is President and Chief Representative to the United Nations, Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.

(1) Toyin Falola.The History of Nigeria (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999, p. 35)

POUR UN NOUVEL ANTI-ESCLAVAGISME

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Children's Rights, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Religious Freedom, United Nations, War Crimes, Women's Rights on February 10, 2015 at 12:10 AM

-- AWC-UN Geneva Logo --

L’Association of World Citizens

dit

L’ESCLAVAGE,

PLUS JAMAIS CA !

  1. L’esclavage est IMMORAL,
  2. L’esclavage est CONTRAIRE AU DROIT MONDIAL,
  3. L’esclavage doit être VAINCU SANS RECOURIR A LA GUERRE.

L’asservissement, la vente tel du bétail, et le mariage forcé de femmes et de jeunes filles par l’ « Etat islamique » (Daesh) dans les zones de l’Irak et de la Syrie qu’il a soumises par la barbarie, ainsi que par Boko Haram dans le nord-est du Nigéria, appellent une réaction concertée, notamment dans la mesure où cette pratique risque de s’étendre à d’autres zones telles que le nord du Cameroun et du Niger si l’influence de Boko Haram continue de croître.

C’est pourquoi l’Association of World Citizens appelle à un effort aussi vaste que possible en direction d’un Nouveau Mouvement Anti-Esclavagiste, rappelant à cette fin la devise du Libérateur (1831-1865) de William Lloyd Garrison, «Notre pays, c’est le Monde, et tous les êtres humains sont nos compatriotes».

Aux Etats-Unis, l’abolition de l’esclavage ne fut qu’un aspect de la sanglante Guerre de Sécession qui n’a produit que de l’amertume et n’a eu d’influence sur les relations interraciales que négative. En France, une première abolition de l’esclavage dans la fureur guerrière de la Révolution n’a abouti qu’à son rétablissement sous un Premier Empire qui s’est montré tout aussi guerrier, l’abolition définitive n’étant venue, avec Victor Schoelcher, que lorsque les canons se furent enfin tus. C’est pourquoi nous croyons fermement que l’esclavage tel que le pratiquent Daesh et Boko Haram doit être vaincu sans qu’il y ait pour cela recours à une guerre.

A travers les frappes aériennes en cours contre Daesh et l’action militaire kurde pour enrayer les atrocités de ce dernier, les tambours de la guerre se font pourtant d’ores et déjà entendre. Les troupes tchadiennes et camerounaises se sont jointes aux forces armées nigérianes pour empêcher Boko Haram de nuire plus avant, ce qui ne fera toutefois qu’ajouter encore au conflit armé déjà violent dans la région. Des armées peuvent vaincre d’autres armées, mais comme le rappelle l’Acte constitutif de l’UNESCO, «Les guerres prenant naissance dans l’esprit des hommes, c’est dans l’esprit des hommes que doivent être élevées les défenses de la paix».

Nous croyons donc que la réponse au problème doit venir d’un mouvement social et populaire issu des sociétés irakienne, syrienne et nigériane, qui reconnaissent toutes que l’esclavage est immoral et constitue une violation du droit mondial. La prohibition de l’esclavage est un élément crucial du droit mondial, au sein duquel elle s’est manifestée historiquement tant par les interdictions du trafic d’esclaves au dix-neuvième siècle, obtenues grâce au combat du Mouvement Anti-Esclavagiste de l’époque, que par celles édictées plus tard par la Société des Nations et enfin par l’action des Nations Unies depuis leur création en 1945.

Aujourd’hui, c’est d’un Nouveau Mouvement Anti-Esclavagiste que nous avons besoin, afin d’en appeler à toutes celles et tous ceux qui, au Moyen-Orient et en Afrique, peuvent et veulent nous rejoindre pour réaffirmer et renforcer le respect de la dignité humaine, en particulier des femmes et des jeunes filles, ainsi que le respect des droits des minorités religieuses quelles qu’elles soient.

REJOIGNEZ-NOUS DANS CE COMBAT!

THE NEW ABOLITIONISTS

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Children's Rights, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Religious Freedom, United Nations, War Crimes, Women's Rights, World Law on February 9, 2015 at 11:19 PM

-- AWC-UN Geneva Logo --

The Association of World Citizens

says

 NO TO SLAVERY!

  1. Slavery is IMMORAL,
  2. Slavery is BANNED BY WORLD LAW,
  3. Slavery must be OVERCOME WITHOUT RESORT TO WAR.

The enslavement, sale, and forced marriage of women and girls by the Islamic State (ISIS) in parts of Iraq-Syria and by Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria calls for concerted action, especially as the practice may spread to other areas such as northern Cameroon and Niger if the influence of Boko Haram grows.

Therefore, the Association of World Citizens calls for a broad effort of a New Abolitionist Movement, recalling the motto of The Liberator (1831-1865) of William Lloyd Garrison “Our country is the world; our countrymen are all mankind.”

As slavery was abolished in the United States only as an aspect of a bloody civil war which left long bitterness and influenced race relations negatively, we believe that slavery in ISIS and Boko Haram-held areas must be overcome without recourse to a war. The signs of war are already present in air strikes on ISIS positions and Kurdish military action. The joining of troops from Chad and Cameroon to Nigerian forces to combat Boko Haram can also lead to increased armed conflict.

Rather, we believe that reform must come from within Iraqi, Syrian and Nigerian society which recognizes that slavery is immoral and a violation of world law. The banning of slavery is a core element of world law: the unilateral bans on the slave trade of the nineteenth century in response to the efforts of the Abolitionist Movements, the League of Nations bans, and the continuing efforts of the United Nations.

Today, a New Abolitionist Movement is needed to reach out to those in the wider Middle East and Africa to join in strengthening respect for human dignity, respect of women and girls and respect of religious minorities.

JOIN US IN THIS COMMON CAUSE!

Religious Liberty: Challenges and Tasks Ahead for Nongovernmental Organization Action

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations on February 2, 2015 at 4:21 PM

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY:

CHALLENGES AND TASKS AHEAD FOR NONGOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATION ACTION

By René Wadlow

Every year, January 30 is a most appropriate day on which to reflect on issues of religious liberty and to the challenges facing us as members of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as the Association of World Citizens (AWC). January 30 is the anniversary of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, an agent of the semi-military militant Hindu organization RSS (Rashtriya Swayam-sevah Sangh). In the eyes of Godse, Gandhi was too tolerant of Muslims in the riots then going on at the time of independence and partition between India and Pakistan. Currently, the RSS is still very active trying to force with its militias Indian Christians to become Hindus. The RSS is backed by some factions within the Indian government. The RSS is a good example of the fact that efforts to destroy or limit strongly freedom of thought and religious liberty come from both governments and from religious organizations.

As the AWC has been very active on religious liberty issues within the United Nations (UN) human rights committees in Geneva, I will list briefly the types of challenges which we face and then mention UN standards which we can use in our efforts to promote religious liberty.

  • The first situation is when a State has a State Religion and persecutes minority religions within the country. An example is the Islamic Republic of Iran which has banned the Baha’i religion (which began in Iran) and persecutes its members.
  • The second situation is when a State has a State Religion and persecutes branches of that religion with which it disagrees: the Pakistan government persecution of the Ahmadi branch of Islam (which began in what is now Pakistan) is an example.
  • The third situation is when a State has a State Religion and persecutes those who wish to bring about reforms within that religion. A recent example is in Saudi Arabia where a young man posted on his Internet blog a plea to limit the powers of the “moral police” who try to enforce what the government considers “moral behavior” such as women not driving an auto. For his blog statement, Ralf Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes of a whip (50 lashes in public each week during 20 weeks). The AWC’s External Relations Officer, Bernard Henry, was among those protesting this decision in front of the Saudi Embassy in Paris a few days ago in a demonstration led by Amnesty International.
  • The fourth situation is when a State has not State Religion and is against all religious movements and institutions in general. The Soviet Union from 1922 to 1942. In 1942, Stalin changed his policy to encourage religious people to fight the German invaders. Mainland China during the Cultural Revolution years and the Pol Pot government of Cambodia are examples of governments hostile to all religious movements.
  • The fifth situation: Armed movements which control some territory and who wish to create a State with a State Religion and who are hostile to religious minorities. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a dramatic example of an armed movement which controls an area as large as France, partly in Iraq, partly in Syria. There are forced conversions to Islam and girls and women from minority religions are sold as slaves. The Boko Haram movement, active in nearly as large an area as France in northeast Nigeria, northern Cameroon, and part of Niger acts in the same way. Boko Haram and ISIS follow the same policy and ideology and cooperate when possible. We have very similar patterns, but on a smaller scale, in the Central African Republic where Christian militias have attacked Muslim communities so that the majority of Muslims have fled to neighboring countries. However, the Christian militias have not said that they wish to set up a State with Christianity as a State religion.
  • The sixth situation are States which have no State Religion but where there are popular, nongovernmental currents or movements against specific religions. France, Germany and Myanmar can be good examples. France, most recently after attacks against journalists of a satiric journal by two brothers of Muslim religion, has seen a relatively large number of people attacking Islamic institutions largely at night. In Germany, there is a movement which is holding large demonstrations against Muslims. The German government has been against these demonstrations but is limited in what sort of police actions it can take to prevent them. In Myanmar (Burma) although Buddhism was never officially proclaimed a State Religion, the military-led government favored Buddhist groups to such an extent that Buddhism could nearly be considered a State Religion. Currently there are Buddhist monk-led attacks against the Rohingyas − a Muslim minority − and the government has done nothing to prevent such attacks.
On January 23 Amnesty International France and Reporters Without Borders held a protest before the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Paris in support of blogger Raif Badawi. (C) Bernard J. Henry/AWC

On January 23 Amnesty International France and Reporters Without Borders held a protest before the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Paris in support of blogger Raif Badawi. (C) Bernard J. Henry/AWC

These six situations highlight violent situations in which religions are banned, followers killed, imprisoned, sold into slavery and living in fear of being attacked.

There are, of course, many examples of more subtle forms of discrimination, the use of tax policies, the non-recognition of a group as a religion, the banning of healing practices, images making fun of a religion etc. It is important to be aware of these more subtle forms. They need to be prevented, but they are less visible than the imprisonment of a person so they lead to fewer protests.

The front door of a mosque in France in 2009, covered by racist and neo-Nazi graffiti. Over the last five years anti-Islam acts have soared in the country, hitting an all-time high in the wake of the terror attack against the weekly satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo of January 7, 2015. (C) Thierry Antoine/AFP

The front door of a mosque in France in 2009, covered by racist and neo-Nazi graffiti. Over the last five years anti-Islam acts have soared in the country, hitting an all-time high in the wake of the terror attack against the weekly satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo of January 7, 2015. (C) Thierry Antoine/AFP

Universal Standards for Religious Liberty

The universal standard is set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18) “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Article 18 of the Universal Declaration is reaffirmed in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights but made stronger by adding “no one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.” The Covenant was followed, after many years of discussion and debate in which the Association of World Citizens played an important role, with a UN General Assembly “Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief” of November 25, 1981. This is a strong Declaration. I believe that such a strong and comprehensive statement would not be possible today given the coordinated strength of the Islamic States in opposition to the idea in the Declaration of being able to change one’s religion. Unlike the Covenant, the Declaration is not a treaty and so there is no institution to study the action of governments in the light of the Declaration. Nevertheless, the Declaration, relatively little known, should be widely quoted by NGOs working on religious liberty issues.

What Can Be Done Today?

Governments are relatively inactive − or not active at all − when it comes to States restricting religious liberty. We have seen these recent days government leaders going to Saudi Arabia to wish the new king well, as Saudi Arabia sells oil and buys arms from Western governments. Saudi Arabia is one of the most violent oppressors of religious liberty. Thus I would expect no action on the part of governments toward other governments.

However, we do see governmental action against nongovernmental militias who violate religious liberty. There is a coalition of States, led by the United States, England and France to bomb from the air positions of the ISIS in Iraq-Syria. That such bombing will transform the ISIS into liberal advocates of human rights seems to me unlikely.

Likewise the army of Chad has joined the army of Nigeria to fight Boko Haram. As the Nigerian and Chadian armies are best known for their practice of burning villages and raping women, their contribution to a society of respect and tolerance is to be doubted.

Thus, to sum up: the possibilities for the defense of religious liberty are few. There are norms and standards set by the United Nations: Article 18 of the Universal Declaration and the Covenant, and especially the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. Governments are basically unwilling to do anything in the UN even against the worst offenders. On the one hand governments need resources from the country − oil from Saudi Arabia − or they are more concerned with security issues of the country than with religious liberty issues − the case with Iran and North Korea.

If, as I believe, governmental action is useless and will make situations worse, what can NGOs do? One must not be discouraged. The challenges are great; the resources of NGOs are few. A worldwide erosion of religious freedom is causing large-scale human suffering, grave injustice and serious threats to world peace and security. Yet I believe that NGOs have through UN standards a clear set of international principles and standards to maintain. We must find ways for common action today.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

World Law Advanced by the UN Special Session of the Human Rights Council on Human Rights Violations in Iraq

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on September 3, 2014 at 12:21 AM

WORLD LAW ADVANCED BY THE UN SPECIAL SESSION OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL ON HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN IRAQ

By René Wadlow

 

Two major advancements in the universal application of world law were made by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council Special Session in Geneva on September 1, 2014. The Council met in response to widespread and converging accusations of human rights violations in territory in Iraq and Syria under the control of the Islamic State (IS) also called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). I will use the term “Islamic State” which is the title that the movement most often uses now for itself.

For the past several years, the IS was one of a good number of shifting insurgency groups active in Syria in opposition to the government, and it did not receive more attention than any of the other insurgencies. It had no clear political program, and its ideology was not particularly different from that of other Islamist groups. Then suddenly in June 2014, under the leadership of the young Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group shifted its focus from Syria to Iraq. It was able to build on the growing resentment and sentiment of marginalization of the Iraqi Sunnis and the disorganization of the Iraq army to sweep through large parts of western Iraq and eastern Syria. IS’s ideology does not recognize existing nation-states but rather a potentially unified Islamic world. One of its first symbolic moves was to destroy frontier wall and frontier posts on the Iraq-Syria frontier. Thus the name of Islamic State and the title of Caliphate for the area under its control.

In the areas under IS control, IS armed groups have killed prisoners of the Iraqi army and members of religious and ethnic minorities leading to larger scale displacement of people, often to the Kurdish Autonomous Area − some 800,000 during August. The Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees has stated that this is a “humanitarian crisis” and appealed for support from governments and civil society to meet the urgent needs of the displaced. On August 12, 2014, Heiner Beilefeldt, the Special Rapporteur of the Council on Discrimination due to Religion or Belief, warned of the destruction of religious minorities and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination activated its early warning and urgent action procedures.

During August, IS forces took areas close to the Kurdish Autonomous Area, areas in which there is a large Kurdish-speaking population but is outside the Kurdish Autonomous Area’s boundaries. The Kurdish forces fought back, helped by US bombing missions aimed at IS military equipment and posts. The danger of a military escalation and a spreading of the conflict was (and still is) a real possibility.

Kurdish women fighters in Suleymaniyeh, Iraq. Many people in Kurdistan believe the region owes much of its safety to the efforts of the Peshmerga. (C) BBC News

Kurdish women fighters in Suleymaniyeh, Iraq.
Many people in Kurdistan believe the region owes much of its safety to the efforts of the Peshmerga.
(C) BBC News

Many looked toward the UN Human Rights Council to speak out. Both some governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) urged a Special Session of the Council, the highest profile action which the Council can take. It seems that France took the lead in the effort to get a Special Session. Although a minority of 16 States among the 47 Members of the Council is needed to call a Special Session, diplomatic sense requires that as many States as possible participate in the call and that they would vote positively on the resolution at the end of the Special Session.

In the case of this session, it was agreed by government negotiators to limit the discussion to IS actions in Iraq and not bring up violations in Syria on which governments hold differing views. The negotiators organizing the effort had to have the agreement of Iraq, the concerned State, of Iran which holds the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement and its 120 members. Iran is also heavily involved in the conflicts of Syria and Iraq. Pakistan needed to agree as Pakistan is the usual spokesperson for the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation. Italy, as current president of the EU had to play a key role.

The President of the Council, Ambassador Baudelaire Ndong Ella, had to be kept informed as the Special Session would be under his leadership.

It is difficult for someone not party to the government private negotiations to know how they are carried out and how the resolution is written, well in advance of the Session itself. In this case, the Ambassador of South Africa felt that he had been left out of the discussions and complained bitterly that the resolution had not been negotiated inclusively and transparently and had appealed to the President of the Council to defer until more time was given to delegates to negotiate the text. His request was turned down, and so South Africa was the only State to say after the resolution was passed by consensus without a vote that had there been a vote, he would have abstained.

As the final resolution is written and agreed upon prior to the start of the Session, all the statements of the Member States of the Council, the Observer States and NGOs are “for the record”. Each State wishes to have been seen as saying something in the very short time that each State is allocated. The factual information was presented at the start of the Session by Ms. Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Ms. Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict. There is therefore a good deal of repetition in what government representatives have to say. There is a story in the United States (U. S.) about a mythical conference of comedians who have heard all the jokes before, so rather than tell a joke, they would just say a number, “Number 10” and everyone would laugh. Along these lines, I have suggested that at the UN a good deal of time could be saved by having all ideas given a number, so the Ambassador could just say, “We believe, 7 9 15, Thank you” and a skilled technician would flash a red light if ever a new idea was mentioned. My suggestion has not yet been acted upon, and so one must listen carefully to “hear between the lines” and see who is saying something different or occasionally saying it very well.

Thus, it was impossible for the Ambassador of Syria not to mention that the IS was also in Syria, which the Canadian Ambassador did as well. Germany mentioned that there were Syrian refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan but did not go into more detail. Cuba and Venezuela mentioned that the problems of Iraq were due to the U. S. invasion of 2003 “responsible or sowing the seeds of death and the social breakdown among the Iraqi people”. Ireland was the one State to mention “open and possibly genocidal attacks on minority communities” but did not mention the 1948 Genocide Convention. Austria spoke of the “total annihilation of minorities” but did not use the term “genocide”. Morocco called or Iraq to become a “cohesive State in which all citizens were equal and enjoyed their human rights.” Malaysia called upon “the voices of moderation to drown out the destructive and divisive voices of extremism and terrorism”. Lebanon called for action by the International Criminal Court (ICC), especially against those bearing passports of States which were party to the Rome Statute setting up the ICC. The Holy See (the Vatican) made a moving call or tolerance and understanding among all religions.

After the speeches “for the record”, what was the action proposal which was an advancement for world law? The action proposal followed a Council pattern but with a significant difference. The Council in the past, following a practice of the earlier Commission on Human Rights, has created “Commissions of Inquiry” also called “Fact-finding Missions”. Currently there are four such Commissions at work: Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka, and the Commission of Inquiry on Gaza. Each commission has three, sometimes four people, each from a different geographic zone. The members have usually had experience in UN activities, and the chair is usually someone who has a reputation beyond his UN efforts, such as Mr. Marti Ahtisaari, the former President of Finland who heads the Sri Lanka study.

This sign, here painted in red on a wall with a circle around it, is the letter N in Arabic. When the IS started seizing predominantly Christian-inhabited areas of Iraq by force, its militiamen immediately painted this on houses they knew or thought were owned by Christians, N being for “Nasrani” which is itself the Arabic for “Christian”. A long echo of the Nazis’ practices in pre-World War II Germany, when Hitler’s own militiamen would paint a Star of David on the front door of each Jewish-owned business. That was just before the “Final Solution” which claimed over 6 million lives.

This sign, here painted in red on a wall with a circle around it, is the letter N in Arabic.
When the IS started seizing predominantly Christian-inhabited areas of Iraq by force, its militiamen immediately painted this on houses they knew or thought were owned by Christians, N being for “Nasrani” which is itself the Arabic for “Christian”.
A long echo of the Nazis’ practices in pre-World War II Germany, when Hitler’s own militiamen would paint a Star of David on the front door of each Jewish-owned business. That was just before the “Final Solution” which claimed over 6 million lives.

Since the commissions are usually not welcomed by the government of the country to be studied, the fact-finding is done by interviewing exiles and refugees. NGOs, scholars as well as governments can also provide information in writing. The Commission reports rarely contain information that is not already available from specialized NGOs, journalists and increasingly the Internet. However, the commission reports give an official coloring to the information, and some UN follow up action can be based on the reports.

It takes a good deal of time to put these commissions together as there must be regional balance, increasingly gender balance, and a balance of expertise. Moreover, the people approached to be commission members are often busy and have other professional duties. It can sometimes take a month or more to put together a commission. In light of the pressing need presented by the situation in Iraq, it was decided that the members of the fact-finding group would be members of the Secretariat of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights so that they can get to work immediately.

Inside the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room of the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Inaugurated in 2008, the room accommodates different United Nations bodies, including ECOSOC and the Human Rights Council. (C) United Nations

Inside the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room of the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
Inaugurated in 2008, the room accommodates different United Nations bodies, including ECOSOC and the Human Rights Council.
(C) United Nations

For the UN, this is a major step forward and must have led to a good deal of discussion before being presented in the resolution. As it is, India and China objected publicly in official statements just before the final resolution was accepted. Both States maintained that using Secretariat members went beyond the mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner. They were worried by the increasing investigative role of the Office which should be limited only to helping develop national capacity building: Iraq today, Kashmir and Tibet tomorrow. The Indians and the Chinese are probably not the only governments worried, but they were the only States which spoke up on the issue, objecting strongly but saying they would not block consensus on the resolution.

The other advance or world law arising from the Special Session is the principle of the universality of concern and thus of investigation. In no previous case, has the UN looked at the violations within an area not under the control of a Member State. In this case, the investigation concerns actions of a non-state actor who nevertheless controls territory and to some extent administers the territory trying to impose its vision of strict Islamic law. This is a major step forward and has implications or other state entities but which are not members of the UN or recognized by the majority of UN Member States such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistra, Nagorno-Karabakh, and if a state were set up in eastern Ukraine.

This principle was stated in a widely distributed text for the Special Session and which will come out as a written NGO statement at the regular session of the Council starting 8 September. With due modesty, I quote from myself:

“The Association of World Citizens believes that world law as developed by the United Nations applies not only to the governments of Member States but also to individuals and non-governmental organizations. The ISIS has not been recognized as a State and is not a member of the UN. Nevertheless the Association of World Citizens is convinced that the terms of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief applies to the ISIS and that the actions of the ISIS are, in the terms of the Declaration adopted by the General Assembly on November 25, 1981 ‘inadmissible’.

Citizens of the World stress the need for world law and certain common values among all the States and peoples of the world. We are one humanity with a shared destiny. The challenge before us requires inclusive ethical values. Such values must be based on a sense of common responsibility for both present and future generations.”

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Iraq: Yazidis’ Genocide?

In Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Religious Freedom, Uncategorized, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on August 11, 2014 at 7:05 PM

IRAQ: YAZIDIS’ GENOCIDE?

By René Wadlow

 

A mix of United States (U. S.) humanitarian airdrops of food and water to the stranded displaced people on Mount Sinjar as well as U. S. military air strikes against some of the positions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has focused international attention on the area. The Christian Peacemaker Teams have had a group working toward human rights protection and reconciliation in the Iraq Kurdistan for some years and are now posting daily updates on their website and Facebook [i].

I will not deal here with the broader issues of the impact of the ISIS on the possible geographic fragmentation and re-structuring of Iraq and Syria.

As a Nongovernmental Organization (NGO) representative to the United Nations, Geneva, and active on human rights issues, I had already raised the issues of two major religious minorities in Iraq at the UN Commission on Human Rights: the Yazidis and the Mandaeans. Here I ask if their fate can be identified as genocide under the 1948 Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. My concern with the Yazidi (also written as Yezidi) dates from the early 1990s and the creation of the Kurdish Autonomous Region. Many of the Yazidis are ethnic Kurds, and the government of Saddam Hussein was opposed to them not so much for their religious beliefs but rather that some Yazidis played important roles in the Kurdish community seen as largely opposed to the government. The Yazidis also had some old ownership claims on land on which oil reserves are found in northern Iraq.

My concern with the Mandaeans (also written as Sabean-Mandeans) came in the early 2000s after the U. S. invasion when the Mandaeans were persecuted as being supporters of Saddam Hussein and most fled to Syria. A word about the faiths of the two groups which helps to explain their special status. Although both are called “sects” and are closed religious communities which one can only enter by birth, they are faiths even if the number of the faithful is small.

The Mandaeans are a religious group formed in the first centuries of the Common Era in what is now Israel-Palestine-Jordan. Over time, they migrated to southern Iraq in the area of Basra as well as to what is now the Islamic Republic of Iran. One of their distinctive signs is the frequent purification by running water − baptism. They honor John the Baptist, described in the Christian Gospel of Luke, but are probably not direct descendents of his followers. At the time of John and Jesus, there were a good number of movements which had purification by water as one of their rituals. The Mandaean scripture The Book of John is probably a third-century collection. The Book of John was used in Mandaean rituals and services but was never published to be read by others. Given intellectual and historic interest in the Mandaeans, the Mandaean leadership authorized the publication of their scriptures. As a sign of respect, the first printed copy was given to Saddam Hussein as President of the country. In the confused situation after the U. S. occupation of Iraq, the book presentation was enough to have some accuse the Mandaeans of being Saddam Hussein supporters. Under increasing pressure, the vast majority of Mandaeans left Iraq for Syria (the frying pan into the fire image). Now they are caught in the Syrian civil war, unable or unwilling to return to Iraq. A small number of Mandaeans have been granted refugee status in the US and Western Europe.

There has been some intellectual mutual interplay among the Mandaeans and the Yazidis, but they are separate faiths and located in different parts of Iraq. The structure of the Yazidi worldview is Zoroastrian, a faith born in Persia proclaiming that two great cosmic forces, that of light and good, and that of darkness and evil are in constant battle. Man is called upon to help light overcome evil.

Sabean Mandeans perform baptisms for the faithful, in Iraq's Tigris River. (C) The Washington Post

Sabean Mandeans perform baptisms for the faithful, in Iraq’s Tigris River.
(C) The Washington Post

However, the strict dualistic thinking of Zoroastrianism was modified by another Persian prophet, Mani of Ctesiphon in the third century CE who had to deal with a situation very close of that of ours today. Mani tried to create a synthesis of religious teachings that were increasingly coming into contact through travcl and trade: Buddhism and Hinduism from India, Jewish and Christian thought, Helenistic Gnostic philosophy from Egypt and Greece as well as many smaller, traditional and “animist” beliefs. He kept the Zoroastrian dualism as the most easily understood intellectual framework, though giving it a somewhat more Taoist (yin-yang) flexibility, Mani having traveled in China. He developed the idea of the progression of the soul by individual effort through reincarnation − a main feature of Indian thought combined with the ethical insights of Gnostic and Christian thought. Unfortunately, only the dualistic Zoroastrian framework is still attached to Mani’s name − Manichaeism. This is somewhat ironic as it was the Zoroastrian Magi who had him put to death as a dangerous rival.

Within the Mani-Zoroastrian framework, the Yazidi added the presence of angels who are to help man in his constant battle for light and good, in particular Melek Tawis, the peacock angel. Although there are angels in Islam, angels that one does not know could well be demons, and so the Yazidis are regularly accused of being “demon worshipers” [ii].

The faravahar is one of the best-known symbols of Zoroastrianism, the state religion of ancient Iran.

The faravahar is one of the best-known symbols of Zoroastrianism, the state religion of ancient Iran.

With the smaller Mandaean faith, originally some 60,000 people, now virtually destroyed in Iraq and unable to function effectively in Syria, the idea of ridding a country of the near totality of a faith is not for the ISIS an “impossible dream”. There are probably some 500,000 Yazidis in Iraq. Iraq demographic statistics are not fully reliable, and Yazidi leaders may give larger estimates by counting Kurds who had been Yazidis but had been converted to Islam. There had been some 200,000 Yazidis among the Kurds of Turkey but now nearly all have migrated to Western Europe, Australia and Canada.

Already in the last days, some 150,000 Yazidis have been uprooted and have fled to Iraqi Kurdistan. Thus most Yazidis could be pushed into an ever-smaller Kurdish-controlled zone of Iraq and Syria. The rest could be converted to Islam or killed. The government of the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq has done little (if anything) to help the socio-economic development of the Yazidis, probably fearing competition for the Kurdish families now in control of the autonomous Kurdish government and society. Now the Kurdistan government and civil society groups are stretched well beyond capacity with displaced persons from Iraq and Syria.

Thousands of Yazidis previously trapped by Isis have been rescued by Kurdish peshmerga forces. (C) Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Thousands of Yazidis previously trapped by Isis have been rescued by Kurdish peshmerga forces.
(C) Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

If one is to take seriously the statements of the ISIS leadership, genocide − the destruction in whole or in part of a group − is a stated aim. The killing of the Yazidis is a policy and not “collateral damage” from fighting. The 1948 Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide allows any State party to the Convention to “call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide.” Thus far no State has done so by making a formal proposal to deal with the Convention.

With the incomplete evidence at hand, I would maintain that the ISIS policy is genocide and not just a control of territory. Although the UN “track record” of dealing with genocide is very mixed, the first immediate step is for a State to raise the issue within the UN in order to set a legal approach in motion [iii].

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

 

[i] See the website of the Christian Peacemaker Teams: www.cpt.org.

[ii] A Yazidi website has been set up by Iraqis living in Lincoln, Nebraska. The website is uneven but of interest as a self presentation: www.yeziditruth.org.

[iii] See the very complete study: William A. Schabas, Genocide in International Law (Cambridge Univesity Press, 2000).

Bahrain and the Defense of Spiritual Liberty

In Current Events, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Religious Freedom on May 24, 2011 at 11:33 AM

BAHRAIN AND THE DEFENSE OF SPIRITUAL LIBERTY

By René Wadlow

   

In a recent May 14, 2011 Appeal to the Kingdom of Bahrain concerning the systematic destruction of mosques used by the Shi’a citizens who are currently demonstrating for greater liberty and democracy, the Appeal pointed out that the destructions of places of worship is a direct violation of the spirit but also the letter of the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.  The Declaration was proclaimed on November 25, 1981 and began “Considering that one of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations is that of the dignity and equality inherent in all human beings, and that all Member States have pledged themselves to take joint and separate action in co-operation with the Organization to promote and encourage universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.”

The Declaration took nearly 20 years of difficult negotiations to draft.  Preparation of the declaration began in 1962, and the Declaration was proclaimed in November 1981.  Originally, UN negotiators had thought of drafting a single text which would have included the elimination of discrimination based on race, sex and religion.  However, there was too great a diversity of views.  It was easier to deal with the elements separately, all the more so that in the 1960s and 1970s in UN circles “race” was only the Apartheid policy of South Africa which everyone was, at least verbally, against.

Religion and belief were more difficult questions.  The defense of spiritual liberty has been one of the most persistent of struggles, and there is no area of the world that does not have its martyrs to the cause.  The struggle has often been against religious authorities who have wanted to maintain their faith within narrow limits claiming that they alone held the truth.  It is significant that the words “dogmatic”, “sectarian”, and “inquisition” — all arise from the religious vocabulary.  The stoning of the prophets and the auto-da-fe have been the answers of religious authorities — and often ordinary believers as well — to new ideas.  Today, in most parts of the world, religious organizations can no longer put heretics to death.  Now, religious organizations can only try to marginalize those who hold new ideas or to excommunicate them; the inquisition has lost its secular arm.

The Amir Mohammed Braighi mosque before destruction.

If religious organizations are no longer able to put to death heretics, the State has taken over the task of establishing orthodoxy and putting heretics to death.  Although today, governments are the prime agents of repression against the spiritual life, governments are also timidly building the defenses of spiritual liberty.

The Declaration of November 25, 1981 builds upon Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

One of the most difficult areas in drafting the Declaration concerned the rights of the child to have “access to education in the matter of religion or belief in accordance with the wishes of his parents and shall not be compelled to receive teaching on religion or belief against the wishes of his parents or legal guardians, the best interests of the child being the guiding principle.”  The Declaration went on to state that “The child shall be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples, peace and universal brotherhood, respect for freedom of religion or belief of others, and in full consciousness that his energy and talents should be devoted to the services of his fellow men.”

The Amir Mohammed Braighi mosque now stands in ruins.

Despite the rather nondramatic title of the Declaration, it is a milestone on the path of spiritual liberty.  Thanks to the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, we who work for a world of understanding and solidarity have a UN text on which to base our efforts to defend spiritual liberty.

The Kingdom of Bahrain which has received support from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the form of tanks and soldiers and from other Gulf States in the form of police, has not yet relied to the AWC Appeal.  It seems that they are preoccupied with arresting people rather than reading UN documents by which to set their standards. However the AWC will continue to remind them of the foundations of world law.

René Wadlow is Senior Vice-President and Chief Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.

%d bloggers like this: