Panel at UN discusses religious tolerance
Ms. Bani Dugal, the Principal Representative of the Baha'i International Community, was invited to speak on a panel on religious tolerance (view video), during the Ministerial Segment of the UN General Assembly. The panel was part of a broader initiative to promote religious tolerance, sponsored by Italy and Jordan and held on 27 September 2012. Ms. Dugal’s remarks focused on current and future challenges regarding freedom of religion or belief. The panel discussions highlighted, among other things, the centrality of the freedom of religion or belief to the promotion of religious tolerance. Read Chairs’ Summary.
Despite the fact that it is often overlooked or under-enforced, the right to freedom of religion or belief is central to promoting religious tolerance and reducing tensions in many countries. That was among the main themes of a side event held here during the annual high level summit of world leaders.
“The protection of religious liberty is clearly the challenge of our times and the challenge of the 21st Century,” said Professor Elizabeth Defeis of Seton Hall Law School in Newark, New Jersey. She cited a new report that says 75 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with high government restrictions on – or high social hostilities regarding – religion. The research carried out by the Washington-based Pew Research Center “indicates that Christians are most at risk, and are the subject of such discrimination in more than 110 countries,” she said. “Such actions are of course in violation of international law.”
“As an aspect of sovereignty, all nations have a responsibility to protect their own populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. Sadly, violence directed against civilians because of religious practices and beliefs can rise to the level of crimes against humanity.” Bani Dugal – principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the UN – observed that the repression of freedom of religion or belief leads to “political and social instability, unrest, at times, culminating in violent clashes and loss of life. When governments actively suppress or repress these freedoms, they marginalize religious communities, exacerbate misunderstandings, and encourage the propagation of harmful and hateful stereotypes,” she said, citing the case of Iran’s persecution of Baha’is as one dramatic example. “No society is perfect, but the freedoms enjoyed in pluralistic societies in which diversity of religion and belief is protected, coupled with the rule of law, provide a much more stable foundation for peaceful relations between members of different religions and for positive dynamics in society at large,” said Ms. Dugal.
Also on the panel was William Vendley, secretary general of Religions for Peace, and James Patton of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy. The discussion was moderated by CBS News foreign affairs analyst, Pamela Falk.
Earlier in the day, Italy’s foreign minister, Guilio Terzi, joined with the foreign minister of Jordan, Nasser Judeh, to discuss why freedom of religion must be addressed as a priority by governments and civil society. Among the best remedies to religious intolerance, they said, was increased education about human rights. “Civil society,” said Mr. Judeh, “particularly human rights defenders and religious and community leaders, play a crucial role in countering all forms of extremism and hatred and in promoting tolerance, fostering dialogue and mutual understanding.”
Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, also addressed the meeting saying religious tolerance and respect for freedom of religion or belief is essential in defusing “identity-based” conflicts that sometimes lead to genocide. “In a world where societies are more and more diverse, tolerance is more likely to flourish when the human rights of all religious groups are respected and, similarly, human rights can thrive only if different groups are treated in the same way,” said Mr. Dieng.