IRLA Participates in Open Forum with UN Special Rapporteur

Ms. Asma Jahangir at the April 7 meeting

Geneva, Switzerland… United Nations representative for the International Religious Liberty Association, Dr Jonathan Gallagher, took advantage of an April 7 open forum to seek support for its program.

UN Special rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ms. Asma Jahangir, invited questions and comments in support of her mandate. Gallagher asked for comments on its ongoing project that seeks to ban the death penalty for changing religion. 

"We see this as the worst form of religious intolerance-to be executed simply for the act of changing one's religion, a fundamental human right," says Gallagher. "So I asked if the special rapporteur would support our program that seeks to gain commitment from all countries not to execute, or allow to be killed, anyone who changes their religion."

Janhangir responded that such a position against the death penalty for change of religion has never been in question. "Conversion is your right," she affirmed, noting however that "if you scratch the surface in any society you will find religious intolerance."

In her April 4 statement to the Commission on Human Rights, Jahangir identified as her "main concerns… the continuing violations of human rights of members of certain religious minorities but also the still widely applied practice of forced conversion, which I believe is breaching the strongest and most fundamental part of religion or belief."

Gallagher commented that "we especially appreciated her comments on the way in which religious minorities are treated, especially in regard to attacks on places of worship and burdensome registration requirements."

Jahangir also strongly encouraged states to take action against those who attacked religious minorities, stating that "where acts of violence or other acts of religious intolerance are committed against individuals, States have both an obligation to protect and an obligation to remedy the situation. Perpetrators must be brought to justice."

The IRLA is continuing its campaign to gain support, not only in declarations but also in direct action, to eliminate the imposition of the death penalty for changing religion. "We will continue to lobby on this vital question, since it demonstrates the most extreme form of religious intolerance," Gallagher concludes. [IRLA News]