29 June 2018, GENEVA: On 25 June 2018, the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue organized a World Conference on the theme of “Religions, Creeds and Value Systems: Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights” at the United Nations Office at Geneva in collaboration with the International Catholic Migration Commission, the World Council of Churches, the Arab Thought Forum, the World Council of Religious Leaders, Bridges to Common Ground and the European Centre for Peace and Development. The World Conference - held under the patronage of His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan - was addressed by more than 35 world-renowned religious, political and lay leaders from the major regions of the world.
Mr. Fernand de Varennes, UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, spoke on the issue of equal citizenship rights in relation to minorities. Mr. de Varennes explained that longstanding conflicts too often involved gross denial of fundamental human rights and marginalisation, especially with regard to minorities and religious, linguistic or ethnic groups.
To enhance equal citizenship rights, according to the speaker, one needed to emphasise international human rights and, especially, the prohibition of discrimination, as the main framework and tool for the achievement of equality. He further stated that inclusion was crucial for any global strategy. “Minorities are unfortunately too often portrayed as somehow exogenous parts of society: inclusiveness is rejected in favour of an exclusionary portrayal of others as outsiders,” Mr. de Varennes said.
For Mr. de Varennes, the enhancement of equal citizenship rights must take into account the situation of religious minorities, who are the most targeted. He added that, despite the fact that there has been recent innovative approaches to address the challenges that minorities faced, in regards to freedom of expression and prohibition of incitement to hate, something similar had to be done in relation to the realisation of equality in citizenship rights.
In this regard, the UN Special Rapporteur explained that countries seemed to be moving towards more and more discriminatory approaches against religious and other minorities, including approaches that did not sufficiently or effectively combat and prosecute hate speech, particularly in the social media. He also added that one of the reasons as for the slow progress in this regard was the lack of understanding and awareness of the human rights of religious and other minorities.
“There is no practical guide towards equal citizenship as part of the UN system”, he further noted. In his closing remarks, Mr. de Varennes reiterated that there is “no legal instrument in international law which clearly sets up human rights of religious and other minorities nor declaration or treaty at the UN which clarifies the rights of religious minorities beyond the 1981 Declaration of the elimination of all forms of tolerance and the UN Declaration on the rights of minorities.”
About the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue
The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, an organization with special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, is a think tank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, religious and civilizational dialogue between the Global North and Global South, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region. Its aim is to act as a platform for dialogue between a variety of stakeholders involved in the promotion and protection of human rights.
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