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Religious minorities continue to suffer in many countries, UN expert says
23 October 2008 — Religious minorities in different parts of the world continue to be persecuted and discriminated against based on their beliefs, with some living in “perpetual threat,” according to an independent United Nations expert, who added that the problem is prevalent across a wide range of countries.
“At national levels, I see that religious minorities continue to suffer, and the more despotic a regime, the more suffering of religious minorities,” Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief, said in an interview with the UN News Centre.
At the same time, she pointed out that violations of this basic human right – which manifest themselves in, among others, not being allowed to gather together for worship, desecration of religious sites, and being prevented from making pilgrimages – do not just occur in countries with certain types of political systems.
“One would have imagined that such incidents only take place in countries which have been unfortunately left behind, where political systems and social values have remained stunted,” she stated. “But these also take place in countries which have very good democratic credentials and which have progressed both socially and politically.”
In more multicultural and diverse societies, tensions can be expected to arise, she noted. “But the kind of animosity that one sees is inhuman. And the way we have received reports of how people kill each other in the name of religion and the manner in which that killing is done… shows the venom people have towards each other simply because of difference of religion or belief,” she added. “And I think that really is very frightening.”
One example of this is India, which, with its multitude of cultures, languages and religions, “oozes” diversity, she said, noting that the country is a vibrant democracy and has many people who are committed to secularism.
“And yet some of the worst forms of killings have taken place there,” said Ms. Jahangir, referring to the communal tensions and violence that the South Asian nation has witnessed over the years.
The Special Rapporteur added that violations are perpetrated not just by individuals or groups but also by States themselves.
“There are still States that heavily discriminate… that persecute religious minorities. And these minorities live in perpetual threat,” said Ms. Jahangir, who continues to receive reports of arrests, torture and intimidation by “States and their agents.”
The groups that she receives reports about include the Baha’is in Iran, Buddhists in Tibet and Ahmadis – a religious group that identifies itself as Muslim – in a number of countries.
An important related issue, and one which Ms. Jahangir highlighted yesterday in her speech to the General Assembly’s third committee (social, humanitarian and cultural), is the compulsory mentioning of one’s religion on official identity cards or passports, which she stressed carries a serious risk of abuse.
“I don’t think there is any reason to indicate religion on identity cards or passports,” she reiterated today. “But there can be a situation where, for the purposes of governance and for the purposes of giving affirmative action, like in India and Pakistan, people have to identify their religions, or for census purposes.
“Now that might be necessary, but it’s not necessary for them to always carry this passport or identity card that shows their religion,” she added.