UN Human Rights Expert Speaks Out Against Religious Intolerance

June 10, 2002. Manila, Philippines... [IRLA News] United Nations special rapporteur to the Commission on Human Rights Prof. Abdelfattah Amor, speaking at the opening session of the world religious freedom Congress organized by the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA) today, said that religious extremism and intolerance posed one of the world's greatest threats.

Prof. Amor, also vice-chair of the U.N. Human Rights Committee, spoke on the theme of the Congress, 'Religious Freedom: A Basis for Peace and Justice,' underlining the tragic consequences of inter-religious conflict and the vital importance of respecting freedom of belief. "In various countries religious freedom violations occur because of political reasons," said Amor. "As a result these violations are not dealt with and continue-actions of discrimination and intolerance, while freedom of thought, conscience and belief is attacked."

Amor also mentioned that in some nations the right to change religion is denied, and the death penalty is imposed on those who do change their religion. He also highlighted the negative impact of religious extremism. Speaking on the role given women in some religions, he said that "based on religion women are given a very secondary role, and the impression is given that women are objects and have no intrinsic value in themselves."

One primary tool in dealing with religious discrimination is the use of education to promote tolerance and mutual respect. "The struggle in religious freedom can be dealt with in education on all levels especially in elementary where educations begins," Amor said. "In many schools, negative information is passed on to students."

"As a result of September 11, new attitudes and legal frameworks can endanger religious freedom," Amor concluded. "Those involved in this struggle must not let political events limit their voice-we must continue the fight for liberty and tolerance. If there is not a strong voice against this tide of religious intolerance the global situation will become much worse."

Responding for the IRLA, Dr. Jonathan Gallagher applauded Prof. Amor's commitment to tackling religious intolerance. "Religious extremism breeds terrorism and violence, and is the greatest threat to today's world. The IRLA is determined to continue the fight for religious liberty and freedom of conscience for all."

The World Congress is being held at the Westin Philippine Plaza Hotel from June 10-13, and includes other prominent speakers such Ambassador Robert Seiple, president, Institute for Global Engagement; Prof. Alberto de la Hera, Department of Religious Affairs, Spain; and Anatoly Krasikov, Russian Academy of Sciences, University of Moscow, as well as local dignitaries including the senate president and other high-level politicians and ambassadors. Other religious freedom experts from the Philippines, Mexico, Russia, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Trinidad, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Japan, Korea, the U.S. and elsewhere are also participating.