Promoting Religious Tolerance


Promoting Religious Tolerance

Joint statement presented by the Baha'i­ International Community to the World Conference on Human Rights on behalf of the following non-governmental organizations: Anglican Observer Office at the United Nations, Baha'i­ International Community, Dayemi Complex, Gray Panthers, International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty, International Council of Jewish Women, International Mahavir Jain Mission, International Organization for World Peace, Disarmament, and Human Rights, Pax Romana, Planetary Citizens, Temple of Understanding, Unitarian Universalist, Voice of the World's Citizens, and World Spiritual Assembly

Vienna, Austria—18 June 1993

Religious intolerance has led and continues to lead to some of the most degrading violations of human rights. These violations aggravate historic mistrust and severely threaten regional and international security.

Recognizing the divisive effect of religious intolerance, the United Nations has sought to protect and promote freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief address these concerns. The World Conference on Human Rights provides a unique opportunity to review our progress and evaluate the effectiveness of United Nations human rights instruments in ensuring freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief around the world.

It is significant that the World Conference on Human Rights is being held in 1993. This year marks not only the 25th anniversary of the 1968 Conference on Human Rights held in Teheran, but also the 100th anniversary of the World's Parliament of Religions which was held in Chicago in 1893 and marked the beginning of an era of greater cooperation among religious leaders. It is also worth noting that religious non-governmental organizations are working with the United Nations Economic and Social Council to prepare for the celebration in 1995 of the International Year of Tolerance.

Those of us associated with the Non-Governmental Organizations Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief and participating in the World Conference on Human Rights firmly believe that religion need not be a source of division in the world. On the contrary, we believe that religion is the principal means by which religious intolerance can be permanently eliminated.

The principles underlying any solution to religious intolerance may be found in the teachings of all religions and in all spiritual traditions in the world. We are, therefore, convinced that religious communities have a special responsibility, because of their own teachings, to work toward dissolving divisions, ending conflicts, and establishing security, so that fear can be gradually replaced by trust.

The scriptures and spiritual traditions of each religion attest both to a common human heritage and to the responsibility of each individual to pursue his/her own spiritual course. The universality of the need for religious expression is itself a sign of the transcendent character of humanity and a proof of oneness. That this desire for transcendence finds expression in all languages, nations, and cultures demonstrates the principle of unity in diversity. Affirmation of both the oneness and the particularity of humankind is critical to peace and cooperation in our global society. All religions teach love, and all religions are intended to promote the well-being of the human family. Intolerance runs counter to the law of love and hinders the common good.

If tolerance is rooted in love, intolerance is often rooted in the cultural and historical antagonisms associated with religious traditions. Because antagonisms are often born of ignorance and limited understanding, education can reveal the common spiritual values underlying various beliefs and practices and can thereby foster religious tolerance.

The role of the individual in promoting tolerance is of paramount importance. Legal mechanisms alone will not end religious intolerance as long as people believe that differences in religious beliefs and practices are legitimate grounds for discrimination. Therefore, education programs must be aimed not only at providing accurate information and correcting misconceptions but at identifying those principles and values that will open both minds and hearts.

It is proposed, therefore, that education seek to foster not just tolerance of religious diversity but genuine appreciation for various beliefs. Curriculum must include not only study of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion or Belief but the comparative study of various scriptures and spiritual traditions. Such an exploration, if undertaken with an open mind, will doubtless reveal remarkable similarities among religious teachings on ethical matters. The discovery of a common thread of shared values will help to instill in individuals an appreciation for the Declaration and demonstrate its necessity.

Nation States also have a responsibility to promote religious tolerance and cooperation. We urge those gathered at the World Conference on Human Rights to recognize the urgent need to address conflicts, discrimination, abuses and violence arising from religious intolerance, and to make use of the resources available, including United Nations human rights instruments. In order to become truly effective, these instruments require both the political will of Governments, and the resources, energy and good will of non-governmental organizations. Negative experiences of the past, which have roots in religious differences, should be recalled and acknowledged, but the cycle of retribution must be broken if there is ever to be peace. We must work diligently for reconciliation.

We, the co-sponsors of this statement, recognize the substantial progress which has been made by the Human Rights Committee in drafting the General Comment on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We urge that serious attention be given to securing effective responses to this General Comment by all States Parties to the International Covenant.

We also recognize the valuable contributions made by the Special Rapporteur on Implementation of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance Based on Religion or Belief, appointed by United Nations Commission on Human Rights. We urge the continuation and strengthening of this work, paying particular attention to his recommendation, repeated annually since 1986, that an International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief be drafted.

In conclusion, we commend all efforts by non-governmental organizations to publicize, alleviate, and bring to an end instances of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief. Through their cooperative efforts they demonstrate that people of different religious and spiritual traditions can work together for peace and justice in the world.