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Fight against terrorism no excuse to ignore freedom of religion or belief, says UN rights expert

NEW YORK (22 October 2018) – Governments worldwide need to strengthen efforts to protect freedom of religion or belief while tackling the challenge of violent extremism, a UN human rights expert said today.

The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, said national security measures introduced to advance the global war on terrorism have resulted in “countless violations and abuses of fundamental human rights”, including the right to freedom of religion or belief. 

In a report presented to the UN General Assembly, Shaheed highlighted discriminatory practices that target particular faiths perceived to be linked to violence and terrorism.  He asserted that freedom of religion or belief (and other human rights) and national security are not competing or mutually exclusive values that need to be “balanced” against one another, but that a “complementary, interdependent and mutually reinforcing relationship exists between these imperatives for human dignity and safety.”

“Terrorism and violent extremism pose direct threats to the enjoyment of human rights, and States have an obligation to protect all individuals from violence located within their territories and that are subject to their jurisdictions. However, States must also uphold human rights obligations while pursuing these measures if they are to make sustainable inroads in challenging the narratives of violent extremists and if they are to effectively prevent these atrocities.”

“In this context, I further urge States to use the various tools developed by the United Nations system in the context of freedom of religion or belief and the prevention of mass atrocities, and which are grounded in the human rights framework, to build societal resilience against violent extremism.”

The Special Rapporteur said “any distinction, exclusion or preference that, by design or in its application, nullifies or impairs the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms is unlawful unless distinctions are based on objective and reasonable criteria”.

He stressed the importance of the Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18, outlining measures to combat intolerance, negative stereotyping, stigmatisation, incitement to violence and violence based on a person’s faith.

Shaheed’s report also highlighted the Rabat Plan of Action adopted in 2012 on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence. The Special Rapporteur also included reference to 2015’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, urging States to embrace the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

“I also welcome, by way of example, the Faith for Rights framework, which was launched in March 2017 through the Beirut Declaration on Faith for Rights and its 18 commitments. Developing collaborative networks of faith-based actors to promote human rights is clearly a worthy goal, especially with regard to fostering respect for pluralism,” the Special Rapporteur said.


Mr. Ahmed Shaheed (the Maldives) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016. Mr. Shaheed is a Visiting Professor at Essex University, UK; a former member of the Maldivian presidential Commission Investigating Corruption; and a foreign policy advisor to the President of the Maldives. He was Foreign Minister of the Maldives from 2005 to 2007 and from 2008 to 2010. He led the country’s efforts to sign and ratify all nine international human rights Conventions and to implement them in law and practice.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. 

For further information and media requests, please contact Ms. Maken Tzeggai (+41 22 917 9889 / mtzeggai@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact:  Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rightswww.standup4humanrights.org.