“Freedom of Religion and Conflict Resolution”

A report written by Dr. Ganoune Diop
Representative of the IRLA (International Religious Liberty Association)
Presented verbally during the session and submitted to the office of the NGO forum and to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

 Introduction

“Freedom of Religion and Conflict Resolution” was just added to the list of topics to discuss in this Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the 55th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 24-26 April 2014, in Luanda, Angola. It is therefore a new topic, but consider why it is of great importance to include it in our reflection, deliberations, and strategic decisions to resolve conflicts and alleviate the suffering of missions because of covert religious wars taking the political façade either within or across religions. 

Current Issues Related to Religious Factors

The map of current conflicts in the continent of Africa reveals that many of them are driven by religious partisanship, misperceptions and misunderstanding of others.

Instead of religions being factors of peace and security they become instruments of fear and instability. This needs to be reversed. Religions should become part of the solution to human predicament not the problem, as was historically the case. And even today the persecution or intimidation of minorities creates instability in many parts of our world. In Africa one can think of the following countries: Egypt, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Mali, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea ….. The list is not exhaustive and could also be extended to include other continents. 

Need to Develop Awareness of the following:

  1. Importance of a holistic vision of understanding of human beings

  2. Importance of taking into consideration the religious aspects underlying many conflicts

  3. Importance of factoring in that the foundation of the whole edifice of human rights is freedom of conscience, with its accompanying right not to subject one’s conscience to any other human being. Human conscience is what makes someone human. Negligence of this foundation makes the whole edifice of human rights fragile.

  4. Violations to freedom of conscience expressed in civil society through freedom of religious or belief through government restrictions or through popular hostility is a significant factor of tensions, conflicts, and wars. 

Comment on the Root Cause and Manifestation of Conflicts

The external manifestation of the problem is violence and aggression, but more subtly, the problem consists in arbitrarily considering others as enemies and describing them as aggressors because of their religious difference. They are considered threats and therefore must be opposed. This creates chronic antagonism carried through many generations (e.g. Balkan wars).

Necessity of Addressing the Issue of Freedom of Religion

Addressing the issue of freedom of religion is highly necessary and incontrovertible if one wants to make this world into a better place; a place where all can coexist having normal relations and enjoying peace, well-being, freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom to live in dignity as stipulates the third pillar of the UN.

 Benefits of using freedom of religion as a tool for conflict resolution and peace making

Securing freedom of religion of belief and the education that goes with it contributes to the following:

  1. The development of a culture of human rights that can contribute to the prevention of conflicts and crises

  2. The resolution of conflicts where the undergirding issue is misunderstanding of other peoples’ religions, non acceptance of others, rejection of others right to existence, hegemonic propaganda, totalitarianism, demeaning of others and the subsequent trampling of their inherent human dignity

  3. The promotion of peace among all peoples, religions and secular ideologies, all people that share the space of civil society.

 Recommendations and Proposals

  1. To address the issue of religious freedom and freedom of conscience, in the setting of the African Commission of Human and Peoples’ Rights, from the perspective of solving problems, from the perspective of conflict resolution rather than that being perceived as the problem that no one addresses.

  2. Create a panel during next session to address the issue of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience as instruments of reconciliation in Africa.

  3. Create a mechanism of mediation with the task of facilitating understanding between religions themselves and various ideologies to which humans adhere.

  4. A special rapporteur is needed in the setting of the African Commission with a mandate to monitor freedom of religion in the continent of Africa and a mandate to facilitate mediations to solve problems rooted in non-acceptance of religious differences, a mandate to find comprehensive mechanisms to resolve conflicts, including pro-active capacity-building in religious tolerance.