WCC NEWS: Equal rights for all the measure of religious freedom
World Council of Churches - News
EQUAL RIGHTS FOR ALL THE MEASURE FOR ASSESSING FREEDOM OF RELIGION
For immediate release: 06 December 2011
An international study process developed by the World Council of Churches (WCC) is preparing a report on freedom of religion as a fundamental human right for all.
The fundamental rights of freedom of religion or belief are often violated by both governments and individuals, acting either on their own behalf or as members of majority groups. Despite significant initiatives taken by states and the international community, religious minorities in several parts of world are becoming the targets of discrimination, acts of violence or hostility and persecution because of their religion.
The extent to which freedom of religion or belief can be considered as an absolute right in pluralistic societies, as well as its relation to various aspects of human rights, was the centre of discussion among experts who participated at an international consultation organized by the WCC's Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA).
Equal rights of all individuals in any society should be the broader parameter which should be seen beyond legal measures when addressing the issue of the Freedom of Religion and belief in today's global context: This was the principle emphasized by thirty experts from 23 countries in Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Middle East.
The consultation was held in Istanbul, Turkey from 28 November to 2 December and hosted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima, vice-moderator of WCC Central Committee, opening the international consultation, stated that "the role of all religions and their adherents must take special interest in protecting the rights of all individuals irrespective of their religious affiliations. Protecting the rights of believers of all religions must be important in fostering peace with justice and equality."
Ambassador Theodoros J. Theodorou of Greece said in his keynote presentation that "Nations must take seriously the provisions of international human rights treaties by integrating them into their own legal systems. More systematic efforts need to be made so that governments around the world enact the meaningful legislation designated to curb religious persecutions."
Religious freedom a historic focus of WCC
The history of the WCC's contributions in addressing concerns related to freedom of religion and human rights was recalled by CCIA director Dr. Mathews George Chunakara.
He pointed out that the CCIA, which was formed in 1946 jointly by the International Missionary Council and the structure preparing the foundation of the WCC, undertook as one of its first tasks to press for international standards on religious freedom. WCC's contribution to drafting article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) has been widely recognized.
"All countries and their governments which ratified various human rights declarations or conventions and covenants, including the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (Link: http://www.oikoumene.org/index.php?RDCT=235bdda6280d29140522 ), are obliged to uphold the human rights of all citizens. But in reality this is not being observed and more and more people are facing serious threats to their right to freedom of religion and the right to exist as religious minorities," said Mathews George.
A report on religious freedom will be presented to the next CCIA meeting which is to be held in the People's Republic of China in June 2012. Christina Papazoglou, WCC programme executive for human rights, said that the "study consultation has analyzed reports from 27 countries in five regions, and several examples of violations have been highlighted from various countries as well as positive responses showing ways to protect freedom of religion."
"In moving forward," Papazoglou added, "the participants in the consultation have encouraged the full participation of church leaders in public life and the involvement of political, religious and social institutions in upholding the right of religious freedom. Furthermore, they emphasized the need for strengthening the existing protection mechanisms and devising effective safeguards against violations of national and international law relating to religious freedom."
The study process on Freedom of Religion and Rights of Religious Minorities was initiated by the CCIA in its 50th meeting held in Albania in 2010, and a special working group has been formed by the CCIA to evaluate the study. More information on the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (Link: http://www.oikoumene.org/index.php?RDCT=d9d0d1fe278d743f97bc ) Read also: Ecumenical Patriarch highlights freedom of religion and minority rights (Link: http://www.oikoumene.org/index.php?RDCT=a1ff5eda0facb78d8f94 ) (WCC press release of 1 December 2011)