Newly-appointed UN Religious Freedom Expert Pledges Action

News October 2004

Ms. Asma Jahangir

New York City, NY, USA… Dr. Asma Jahangir, the chief United Nations investigator on religious freedom issues, pledged herself to act "against violations of human rights, deal with root causes, and deliver conclusions and recommendations."
Addressing members of an UN-affiliated non-government organizations (NGOs) in New York on October 28, Jahangir, recently appointed UN special rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, accepted that "some of the questions I will be dealing with are very contentious, but have great opportunities. Protection of individual human rights will be a central part of my work, and I welcome reports and urgent appeals from your organizations."

Jahangir, stating that hers was "an activist mandate," announced that she planned to hold press conferences in the countries she visited, saying that "this is one of the ways to get the world out. We owe it to the victims of persecution to let them know what a difference it will make to tell stories."

Dr. Jonathan Gallagher, UN representative for the International Religous Liberty Association and also secretary of the UN NGO Committee for Freedom of Religion or Belief, welcomed such an approach. "It's vital that we shine the spotlight on human rights violations, especially religious persecution and violence that tragically is on the increase," said Gallagher. "We will continue to send our reports and urgent appeals to the special rapporteur as we have done in the past, and look forward to practical and substantive results."

Accompanying Dr. Gallagher was Chris Banks, UN liaison volunteer intern, currently enrolled in the Master's in International Affairs program at Columbia University. Chris commented that Jahangir also talked about current trends in countries such as Norway and Thailand where "fairly homogeneous nations have to come to terms with the changing ethnic and religious natures of their societies due to the influx of immigrant populations." Such countries are realizing the need to take a look at national laws vis-à-vis these new groups.

The IRLA has had special consultative status with the UN since 2003.