Eliminating Religious Intolerance Statement to the 46th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights
As stated by Mrs. Odio Benito in her excellent report (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1987/26) and reiterated by Mr. van Boven in his recent enlightening working paper (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1989/32) to the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief is closely linked to all other human rights and fundamental freedoms and intimately connected with them. Indeed, so important is this right to the individual that, throughout history, human beings have been willing to sacrifice all other freedoms, and even life itself, rather than renounce their right to believe and act in accordance with their innermost conscience.
There are, however, particular problems in guaranteeing this freedom and in fostering collaboration and dialogue among people of differing religions and beliefs. These arise from the fact that such religions and beliefs are, in many cases, not merely varying ways of looking at life, but contain in themselves fundamental views according to which ideas held strongly by other systems of belief are both false and harmful.
One cannot hope to establish a universal code which upholds the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief by insisting that the followers of one or other of these systems surrender certain beliefs which are in conflict with those of others; such an attempt would, in itself, be a denial of the freedom which this code seeks to establish.
The Baha'i International Community maintains, however, that conflicting ideas do not inevitably lead to conflict of persons, and it suggests that three principles will help immeasurably to overcome the obstacles to the achievement of this freedom.
The first of these principles is recognition of human fallibility and acceptance of the fact that, however true a person may hold his beliefs to be, he must recognize that his understanding of them is limited by his own limited nature. History alone is a clear demonstration of this human fallibility.
The second is confidence in the ultimate triumph of truth if we will but seek it with perseverance and humility.
The third is recognition of our common membership in one human race living in one small world, the solution to whose problems demands the profoundest thought and best effort that every human being can bring to the task.
The Baha'i International Community suggests that the proponents of every system of religion or belief, in consciousness of these three principles, will, while holding to the beliefs that inspire their lives, be enabled to credit their fellow human beings of other beliefs with having the same idealistic intention for the benefit of humankind, and will have no difficulty in working with them for the advancement of the lot of all people.
As an outcome of historical process, people in one part of the world are too often ignorant of the profundity of thought which underlies the beliefs of the inhabitants of another part. The Baha'i International Community therefore holds that the achievement of universal freedom of religion and belief requires dialogue among the followers of all systems (and of none), to the great enrichment of the knowledge and wisdom of humanity as a whole.
Here one can see particularly clearly the relevance to this freedom of the education of children and the abolition of illiteracy. People who grow up with a capacity -- and the means -- for the acquisition of knowledge will not fall an easy prey to the bigoted fanaticism and ignorant prejudice which lie at the root of most intolerance, whether it be based on belief, race, nation or social background.
One can also recognize the importance of economic and social development in this area. If a people is poverty-stricken and socially oppressed, it will not easily view with tolerance or favor the beliefs and value systems of those who live in ease and lift no hand to help them. Indeed, it is the view of the Baha'i International Community that if all people, of whatever belief, work together for the betterment of humankind, this very collaboration will help to break down the barriers of ignorance and prejudice that divide them, and will remove the very root of religious intolerance.
Baha'is live as a minority in every country of the world and are drawn from virtually every background. They can testify from experience that the upholding of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief is a practical possibility as well as a vital necessity for the development of the well-being of humankind at this crucial point in its history. Where there is love, unity, tolerance and idealism, a people flourishes; when it is afflicted by ignorance, prejudice, division and hatred, it sinks in a slough of unending disasters.
UN Document #E/CN.4/1990/NGO/5