IRLA Meets Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

Barry W. Bussey, IRLA Director of UN Relations; Bani Dugal, Principal Representative of the Bahá'í International Community to the UN;   Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur for the Freedom of Religion or Belief

Professor Bielefeldt Arrives In New York

"Fear and contempt," said Professor Heiner Bielefeldt are the causes of the shocking degree of hatred faced by religious minorities. As the newly appointed Special Rapporteur for the Freedom of Religion or Belief, Prof. Bielefeldt was speaking today to an open meeting sponsored by the UN NGO Committee on the Freedom of Religion or Belief held at the Bahá'í International Community UN headquarters in New York City.

These must be overcome by two ways according to Prof. Bielefeldt. First, the serious violations of religious freedom on the ground must be effectively dealt with by the authorities as they arise and second, the problem must be dealt with conceptually. Rightly understood freedom of religion is the right of the individual – the human being. Human dignity requires the freedom to express dissenting views. There is a need for more public discourse not less. This view needs to be promulgated around the world.

Prof. Bielefeldt's presentation today to the NGO community was the last appointment of his two day trip to New York. On Thursday October 21 he spoke to the full UN body for the first time since he was appointed as the Special Rapporteur. In his inaugural address to the "Third Committee" Bielefeldt said, "The inalienability of human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, finally originates from this axiomatic respect for the equal dignity of all human beings." He said that such freedom "cannot be made dependent on registration of religious groups by the State." Religious minorities (including atheistic and non-theistic) "live in situations of increased vulnerability." Bielefeldt ended his remarks on Thursday noting that "promoting freedom of religion or belief is vital for building a holistic system of human rights protection, based on due respect for the inherent dignity of all members of the human family."

"It was a great opportunity to meet Prof. Bielefeldt today," beamed Barry Bussey, the incoming Director of UN Relations for the International Religious Liberty Association. Bussey along with James Standish (who is now taking over the Washington, DC IRLA office) were at the special meeting with the new Special Rapporteur. "I could not but be impressed with the wisdom, and the gentle engaging spirit of Prof. Bielefeldt," Bussey noted. "Here is a person who has thought very deeply about this issue – he understands the complexities but he is optimistic. It is exciting to contemplate his future work in this portfolio."

IRLA's meeting of the Special Rapporteur in New York came after Karel Nowak, Secretary General of International Association for Defense of Religious Liberty, had met with Prof. Bielefeldt earlier in Europe. "Maintaining an active presence at the UN is fundamental to our worldwide work," said Dr. John Graz, the Secretary-General of the IRLA. "It is a blessing that we were able to meet with the new Special Rapporteur so early in his mandate. The IRLA has always worked closely with the previous UN Special Rapporteurs. They were invited to various events like congresses and Meetings of Experts."