World Evangelical Alliance Liaison Office Geneva  

31st Regular Session of the Human Rights Council, March 2016

Apart from WEA more Evangelical organizations are showing interest in the U.N. institutions, catching up with our Catholic colleagues who are widely active in Geneva to pursue justice.

This council session can be typified as reflecting the changing international political landscape. The Korean president did not take the trouble to meet the civil society during the session personally. There was less talk of the increasing threats to civil society members. The Saudi’s organized a side event under the title “Towards an Unrestricted Humanity” in which their Human Rights Minister gave a lengthy monologue regarding foreign contributions of their government. The only Western nation attending was the U.S.A. The meeting was quickly closed after rights groups from Yemen entered in a verbal fight with the panelists. Sri Lanka was missing for the first time as a dedicated subject.

The so-called High Level Segment where nations send their Foreign Ministers or Heads of State seemed less well attended with important nations not represented.

A marked moment was the final report of the Special Rapporteur on Religion or Belief, Prof. Heiner Bielefeldt. WEA took the floor with an oral statement, see underneath. The office was also co-organizer of the farewell party to the prolific Special Rapporteur. We await with great interest the new appointment.

The Liaison Office has made it a tradition to deliver an oral statement on minorities, since Evangelicals are often in that position and also prolific promotors of minority rights, even where they are have a dominant presence themselves.

Burundi was a marked attention point for WEA during this session. The tension in this African nation rises high. WEA was co-sponsoring a side event with oppositional forces and the government was attending. Two days later the press in Burundi reported on this.

It was reassuring that the Independent Expert on Central African Republic mentioned the catalyzing effect of the Pope’s visit to the country, which would have been unthinkable without the work of the EA inspired Interfaith Peace Platform. Indeed an indicator of best practice towards deciding how to proceed on Burundi. Nations like CAR and Burundi are on a different trajectory from the dominating geo-political focal points, but all the more important for that reason. Like the Pope did in CAR nationals need to be made aware that they are themselves the key to responsible governance and peace in their country.

During the session the second round of the Nepal UPR was concluded. Generally we are disappointed by the lack of attention that religious rights for minorities receive, also in Nepal. This tallies with the perception of changing world scenario’s. This is all the more relevant as the South Asian region is cluttered with nations that struggle how to make room for minorities in a modern global environment. Also Nepal, along with Sri Lanka sandwiching Big Brother India, on the surface seem ahead of its neighbor. If anything this shows from India blocking the Nepal border responding to the establishment of a broader constitution in Nepal. The excellent work of Pax Romana on the joint UPR report, made possible also by WEA RLC training, paid off during the session with a readily provided oral statement, see underneath.

During this session we hosted an intern from France, Clément Metreau. He pursued drafting a brochure aimed at diplomats informing them about core values of Evangelical in the political arena. The result is now offered to the head office as part of our ‘Henry Dunant Human Rights brochures’.


WEA made the following five oral statements:

           

1. Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief:

Mr. Vice- President,

On behalf of the World Evangelical Alliance, I would like to thank the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief for his reports and for the passion and dedication with which he accomplished his mandate. I trust that many victims from whatever religion or believe or none, have found some encouragement in the way professor Bielefeldt fulfilled his task.

We thank the SR for reminding us today that freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief are mutually reinforcing. We believe they are like twin rights, born from the same mother namely, Freedom of Thought and Conscience.

We would like to pose the following questions to the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief:

1.    The World Evangelical Alliance witnessed in different contexts that states may have a tendency to side with the opinions and beliefs of the majority at the expense of those who constitute a numerical minority. Could the Special Rapporteur share some best practices to counter this tendency?

2.    We welcome the useful reminder that when confronted with a statement perceived as offensive, there are other responses possible than violence or legislative measures to suppress that voice. Could the Special Rapporteur share some best practices on how states can stimulate favourable conditions for respectful ways to express and receive dissenting opinions?

3.    Last but not least, we wonder what the Special Rapporteur, based on his six years in office, would regard the most important lesson learned concerning the defence and promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief.

We thank you Mr. President.

 

2. Statement on minority issues:

Mr. President,

The World Evangelical Alliance wants to pay attention to the recent Marrakesh Declaration. We applaud the desire behind the declaration to fight violence and extremism. We appreciate the fact that Muslim authorities from around the world are committed to taking a stand in favor of the protection of religious minorities.

We recommend that the Marrakesh Declaration is studied by decision makers in all Muslim majority countries. Religious freedom for all groups was the foundational principle of the World Evangelical Alliance, back then 170 years ago. Not long thereafter we sent a delegation to the Turkish Sultan. The Marrakesh Declaration shows that today nothing much changed for the better and that action for putting principles into practice is laudable and urgent.

Human freedom and freedom of religion are crucial in order to keep peace within any given society, including the Muslim majority countries. We remind everybody of better records in the past, for instance during the Ottoman period.

Freedom of religion summons all humans to respect the other. Only that respect can, when grounded into the human mind, provide the de-escalation of violence and destruction. The respect and also the flourishing of minorities is the outcome of this process. For the World Evangelical Alliance this is the litmus test of a sustainable society and the building block of a state where laws are adhered, respected and maintained. May Marrakesh serve that end.

We thank you Mr. President.

 

3. Statement on the political situation in Burundi:

Mr. Vice-President,

The World Evangelical Alliance is concerned about the societal crisis in Burundi. This is the time for preventive action and a pro-active approach of peace institutions. This is first and foremost the responsibility of the Burundian government and people. Yet, we have to remember other countries where violence disrupted societies into battlefields. This is the time to avoid another Somalia or South Sudan.

The Burundi government can be offered the example of Sierra Leone and Central African Republic. In the latter country in December 2012 a crisis emerged leading to widespread anarchy. In due course a real inclusive political dialogue was started across the communities by the Interfaith Peace Platform, based on a perception that citizens belong together in one nation. A U.N. peace keeping umbrella was solicited and provided. What we see today are cautious signs of optimism. Violence did not win the day.

The key to peace is real inclusiveness. The government of Burundi has the prime responsibility to seek that. The government has the means of the state. They are meant for peace and prosperity. Also for minorities. A dialogue among friendly interest groups is not what will sustain a society. The minorities need to be included in the political process without violence backed threats.

The World Evangelical Alliance has the following questions for UNIIB (United Nations Independent Investigation on Burundi):

How does it envisage that peace can be retained in the situation where human rights institutions are threatened?

How does it envisage that a real inclusive political dialogue across the population starts to avoid a “winner takes all” illusion?

These questions are all the more relevant as the country is a member of this council.

Thank you Mr. Vice-President

 

4. Joint statement with Caritas Internationalis on the situation in the Central African Republic:

Mr. President,

Caritas Internationalis and the World Evangelical Alliance acknowledge with gratitude the efforts of the Independent Expert and MINUSCA in Central African Republic.

Since December 2012 we have observed significant improvement . At the beginning of the conflict situation, the country seemed to be in a hopeless situation. Anarchy was prevailing and there was too little if any governmental infrastructure.

Today we see a basis for cautious optimism. It is often said that organic growth of societies is important. This is exactly what happened in CAR. We hope that lessons can be taken from this experience and applied to other situations throughout the world.

The process in CAR was geared towards an inclusive political development. Here the “winner take all” approach did not take the day. As a result, the people of CAR were able to rejoice when they received Pope Francis last November. This special group was therefore able to freely visit and encourage the various ethnic groups to put aside conflict and violence and to work together to shape a peaceful future for their children and families. This is an example of responsible and servant leadership by Pope Francis and by the Interfaith Peace Platform in the country that paved the way for him.

Our questions to the Independent Expert are :

What is the way ahead to bolster further reconciliation throughout the country, but particular in the villages and regions beyond the capital?

How can we prioritize indigenous and inclusive solutions and at the same time secure the necesssary funding?

Thank you Mr. President

 

5. Joint statement with Pax Romana on Nepal:

Mr President,

Pax Romana and World Evangelical Alliance draw your attention to the continued restriction on freedom of religion in Nepal despite the new progressive constitution of 2015.

Article 4 of the constitution provides a narrow and ambiguous definition of secularism. Secularism is explained as protection of a particular religious practice which is basically understood as part of the Hindu tradition. The third clause of article 26 legally prohibits freedom of choosing a religion or belief or voluntarily conversion. Therefore, it gives the impression that the state does not embrace other minority religions under the same umbrella and does not guarantee their freedom of religion.

Prior to the promulgation of the constitution, a bill for amendment of existing laws on Criminal offense -2071 was presented in the Nepalese parliament. Clause 156 of the bill has made provisions for punishment in line with the new constitution for practicing a religion which is against the articles 18 of UDHR and ICCPR.

This bill also opens the door to misinterpret or misuse and intentionally make false accusations.

Therefore, we request this human rights council to call upon the government of Nepal to:

1.    Respect the word and spirit of UDHR 18 and ICCPR 18 and internalize it in national legislation.

2.    Make a clear interpretation of article 4 to ensure equal treatment to all religious groups.

3.    Amend article 26 (3) of new constitution - 2015 to ensure that every citizen has full freedom of religion without restrictions to religious leaders to consecrate related sacraments according to their belief.

4.    Form an inter-religious commission to deal with practical complexities on the ground with representatives nominated by the religious communities themselves.

I thank you Mr President.