NEW YORK, OCT. 31, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a statement by Archbishop Celestino Migliore, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, delivered Monday to the 62nd U.N. General Assembly, on the topic of the promotion and protection of human rights.
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At the outset, I wish to thank the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief for her report on the elimination of all forms of religious intolerance.
My delegation notes with interest the two substantive issues which have been raised within the context of the Special Rapporteur’s activities: first, the particular situation of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons, and second, the issues relating to blasphemy laws, education, and equality legislation.
We share the Special Rapporteur’s concern for the particularly vulnerable situation in which refugees, asylum seekers and IDPs, as well as women and religious minorities, find themselves in the exercise of their right to freedom of religion or belief. In this vein, my delegation underlines that the right to freedom of religion or belief applies to all human beings everywhere. International refugee law clearly affords refugees specific rights in their country of refuge in the exercise of their freedom of religion or belief.
Blasphemy laws existing in some countries or regions have caused much suffering especially among religious minorities, either by the punishments inflicted which include death, or by the indirect consequences of destruction of places of worship or summary justice. In places where such laws are still in force, my delegation urges the public authorities concerned to safeguard those accused of blasphemy and to grant full respect of all their human rights. Religious minorities are fully entitled to enjoy the right to religious freedom, equal treatment before the law and the same civil rights as the general population and members of the majority religion.
My delegation is aware of the laudable initiatives to foster debate on the delicate balance between freedom of speech and expression and respect for religion and religious symbols. Finding a common ground would greatly boost mutual understanding. But while we are still engaged in an honest search and dialogue, everyone must exercise responsibility and respect. My delegation remains convinced that to encourage peace and understanding between peoples, it is necessary that religions and their symbols be respected and that believers not be the object of provocations that vilify their religious convictions. Further, respect for religion does not exclude dialogue and debate among religions and with those who do not adhere to any particular religion, aimed at deepening the search for a common and solid ground. Moreover, intolerance and violence as a response to offences can never be justified, for this type of response is incompatible with the authentic spirit of religion and the effective respect for human dignity.
My delegation continues to be seriously concerned that freedom of religion does not exist for many in different parts of the world. That the Special Rapporteur had to send one communication per week on this matter is indicative that there is still much more to do. Forced conversions, executions, desecration of places of worship, expulsion of religious minorities from their communities and other forms of religious persecution mentioned in the Special Rapporteur’s report are violations of the right to religious freedom as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and allied international instruments, such as The Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion and Belief. These legal instruments provide that religious freedom includes the right to believe, to worship, to propose one’s faith to others, to accept a faith in total freedom, to associate freely with others in expressing religious convictions, as well as the right to change one’s religion.
Progress in the dialogue among world’s religions is a positive development. It becomes an occasion to exhort one another to a deeper faith, to peaceful coexistence and mutual enrichment, especially when dialogue is practiced as both witnessing to one’s faith and respecting the religious convictions of others. This progress in dialogue among religions has been accompanied by increased interest on the part of civil society, multilateral and national institutions. The Holy See hopes such interest will contribute to a greater respect by all for religious freedom everywhere.
Thank you, Mr Chairman.