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U.N. Human Rights Council Fails to Protect Religious Freedom

By Brian Pellot


Human Rights Without Frontiers International, a non-profit advocacy organization based in Brussels, released a report on Monday highlighting what we’ve long known to be true: The U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is a joke.

Eight of the UNHRC’s 47 member states, including newly elected Morocco, China and Saudi Arabia (their three-year terms begin Wednesday), imprisoned people in 2013 for breaking laws that restrict religious freedom. The five current member states to do the same were India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Libya and South Korea.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the U.N. General Assembly adopted in 1948, clearly states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

The UNHRC replaced the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in 2006, in part “to redress [the Commission’s] shortcoming,” which included granting membership to countries with terrible human rights records. The resolution establishing the UNHRC declares that member states “shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”

Yet at least eight member states are failing, epically, to do so. In 2013, Human Rights Without Frontiers International documented the following gross human rights violations in the area of religious freedom:

In China, Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists Muslims and Falun Gong adherents were arrested for proselytizing, holding illegal gatherings, providing religious education classes and publicizing their persecution.

In Morocco, a convert to Christianity was arrested and fined for “shaking the faith of a Muslim” by sharing his newfound beliefs.

In Saudi Arabia, 52 Ethiopian Christians were arrested for participating in a private religious service.

In India, Protestants were arrested for holding private prayer meetings.

In Indonesia, a Pentecostal pastor was arrested for holding religious services without a valid permit, and an atheist was sentenced to 30 months in prison for starting an atheist Facebook page where he posted the words “God does not exist.”

In Kazakhstan, an atheist was arrested for allegedly inciting religious hatred in his writings.

In Libya, foreign missionaries, dozens of Copts and a Protestant were arrested and allegedly tortured for proselytizing.

In South Korea, nearly 600 Jehovah’s Witnesses were serving prison sentences for conscientious objection to mandatory military service.

In these eight states tasked with promoting human rights, religious believers and atheists alike are languishing in prison for maintaining their convictions, for exercising their human rights.

The U.N. General Assembly can suspend the rights of UNHRC members that commit serious human rights violations. Newcomers China and Saudi Arabia are two of the world’s worst states when it comes to religious freedom and other human rights. Their election to the UNHRC is a disgrace. Should their rights should be suspended the moment they’re granted on January 1?

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