Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

Applies to/Se aplica a

State practice
State law
Individual cases
For Urgent Action
Only under 18-s

Summary

The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief is an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council. It was formerly known as the Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance and was originally created by the UN Commission on Human Rights.
The mandate is primarily based on article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 18 of the ICCPR and the 1981 Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
The mandate holder is appointed to identify and examine incidents and governmental actions in all parts of the world which are inconsistent with the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief. The Special Rapporteur recommends remedial measures as appropriate which includes transmitting urgent appeals (to try to prevent human rights violations) and letters of allegation (about events which have occurred) to States. Furthermore the mandate holder undertakes fact-finding country visits and submits reports on them to the Human Rights Council and General Assembly as well as annual reports, highlighting state practice, trends and individual cases, and thematic studies.
As conscientious objection as a human rights falls under the right to freedom of thought, religion, or belief, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Beliefs has the mandate most closely related to conscientious objection to military service, and takes up most regularly issues of conscientious objection. Cases of non-religious conscientious objectors might however, be a little more difficult, although theoretically they fall under the mandate.

1. Likely results from use of mechanism

a) Individual cases

After the Special Rapporteur has received information on cases of alleged human rights violations, the mandate holder might either send an urgent appeal or a letter of allegation to the Government of the state concerned. Depending on the response received from the Government, the Special Rapporteur will decide on further steps to take.
As a general rule, the existence and content of both urgent appeals and letters of allegation remain confidential until a summary of such communications and the replies received from the State concerned are included in the joint communications report of all special procedures to the Human Rights Council. The joint communications report also includes links to the original urgent appeal or letter of allegation, and – if available – to the Government's response.

b) State law and practice

The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Beliefs also receives information on state law and practice, and raises issues with a state concerned either in communications, or during a state visit. The Special Rapporteur might make recommendations in the Annual Report, or in a report on a state visit. For example, in the interim report to the UN General Assembly from July 2009 the Special Rapporteur noted that “Conscientious objection to perform military service is another issue of concern in some States. The Special Rapporteur welcomes the fact that a growing number of States have in their laws exempted from compulsory military service citizens who genuinely hold religious or other beliefs that forbid the performance of military service and replaced compulsory military service with alternative national service. However, certain domestic legislation remains problematic in terms of the eligibility to and conditions of conscientious objection. The Special Rapporteur recommends a thorough review of these laws from the perspective of their compliance with international standards and best practices.” (see http://wri-irg.org/node/20274)
Following a visit to Azerbaijan, the Special Rapporteur “urge(d) the Government to honour its commitment made before the Council of Europe and to adopt legislation on alternative service in pursuance to the provisions of its own Constitution, which guarantees such a right.” (see http://wri-irg.org/node/20254) Following a country visit to Turkmenistan, the Special Rapporteur recommended: “The Government should ensure that conscientious objectors in Turkmenistan, in particular Jehovah’s Witnesses who refuse to serve in the army due to their religious beliefs, be offered an alternative civilian service which is compatible with the reasons for conscientious objection. As such, the Government should also revise the Conscription and Military Service Act which refers to the possibility of being sanctioned twice for the same offence. The Special Rapporteur would like to recall that according to the principle of “ne bis in idem”, as enshrined in article 14 (7) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, no one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he or she has already been convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country.” (see http://wri-irg.org/node/20252)

2. To which States does the mechanism apply?

All States

3. Who can submit information?

Everybody

4. When to submit information?

Information on individual cases should be submitted as soon as possible, especially in cases where an urgent action by the Special Procedure is desired.
For information on State law and practice information can be submitted at any time. It is also advisable to watch out for a visit of the Special Rapporteur to your country, and to submit information timely before a scheduled visit, and to attempt to schedule a meeting during the visit. A coalition of NGOs might have a higher chance to have a meeting during a country visit than an individual NGO so far unknown to the Special Rapporteur.

5. Are there any special rules of procedure?

Information can be submitted by post or electronically, but anonymous submissions will not be considered.
In individual cases, submissions to the Special Procedures are not a quasi-judicial procedure, which means that they are not meant to replace national or international legal procedures. Therefore, there is no need for domestic remedies to be exhausted.
Allegations of human rights violations should contain clear and concise details of the details of the case, the name and other identifying information regarding the individual victim(s), information as to the circumstances including – if available – date and place of incidents and alleged perpetrators, suspected motives, and any steps already taken at the national, regional or international level regarding the case(s).
To facilitate the submission of allegations of human rights violations, the Special Rapporteur has produced a model questionnaire, which is available at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomReligion/Pages/Complaints.aspx.

6. What happens to the submission (how long will it take)?

The Special Rapporteur may acknowledge receipt of information from individuals and organisations if requested to do so, but they often this does not happen. The Special Rapporteur is also not required to inform those who provide information about any subsequent measures they have taken.
In case of request for an urgent action, the Quick Response Desk of the Special Procedures Division of the OHCHR coordinates the sending of communications by all mandates. Often communications are sent as joint communications of several special procedures. Governments are generally requested to provide a substantive response to urgent appeals within 30 days. Only in appropriate cases a mandate holder may decide to make such urgent appeals public by issuing a press release.
Governments are usually requested to respond to letters of allegation of human rights violations within two months.
A summary of urgent appeals and letters of allegation and responses from Governments is usually included in the joint communications report of the Special Procedures to the Human Rights Council. This will include the names of the victims, unless there are specific reasons why the names of the victims should remain confidential. In this case, explain those reasons in your initial submission.
The joint communications reports can be accessed at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/CommunicationsreportsSP.aspx.
With the introduction of the joint communications report, the Special Rapporteur does no longer add observations to urgent appeals or letters of allegations, and responses received from governments.

7. History of the use of the mechanism.

The special rapporteur for religious intolerance has the mandate most closely related to conscientious objection to military service and is the thematic mechanism to most regularly taking up issues of conscientious objection.
The Special Rapporteur has been informed of the violation of the right to conscientious objection of individual conscientious objectors in several cases, such as cases from Armenia, Turkmenistan, Eritrea, Azerbaijan, among others (see “case law”, below). The issue of conscientious objection has also been raised by the Special Rapporteur during several country visits.
In the past, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief has drawn governments' attention to explicit international law (see “legal basis”), and urged governments to comply with international standards by recognising the right to conscientious objection. In several reports, the Rapporteur stressed the right of everyone to have conscientious objections to military service as a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as laid down in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Contact Details: 
The complaint should be sent to: Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief c/o Office Of the High Commissioner for Human Rights United Nations at Geneva 8-14 Avenue de la Paix 1211 Geneva 10 Switzerland Fax: (+41 22) 917 90 06 E-mail: freedomofreligion@ohchr.org or to urgent-action@ohchr.org (please include in the subject box: Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief) Model Questionnaire in Englisch: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/religion/docs/questionnaire-e.doc

Interpretations

Title Date
Conscientious objection to military service. (Resolution 1987/46) 10/03/1987

The Commission recognised “that conscientious objection to military service derives from principles and reasons of conscience, including profound convictions, arising from religious, ethical, moral or similar motives”, and appealed “to States to recognize that conscientious objection to military service should be considered a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”.

It recommended “to States with a system of compulsory military service, where such provision has not already been made, that they consider introducing various forms of alternative service for conscientious objectors which are compatible with the reasons for conscientious objection, bearing in mind the experience of some States in this respect, and that they refrain from subjecting such persons to imprisonment”.

Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief 25/11/1981

Article 1 on the Declaration states:
1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have a religion or whatever belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice.
3. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

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Reports and Observations
Title Date
Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir. Addendum – Mission to Azerbaijan 18/10/2006

101. Regarding the right to conscientious objection, the Special Rapporteur urges the Government to honour its commitment made before the Council of Europe and to adopt legislation on alternative service in pursuance to the provisions of its own Constitution, which guarantees such a right.

Armenia Communication sent on 9 June 2005 27/03/2006

10. The Special Rapporteur is grateful for the Government’s response. She would like to draw the Government’s attention to Paragraph 5 of Resolution 1998/77 of the Commission on Human Rights, which emphasizes that States should take the necessary measures to refrain from subjecting conscientious objectors to imprisonment.
11. Moreover, she notes that the Human Rights Committee has encouraged States to ensure that the length of alternative service does not have a punitive character, in comparison to the duration of regular military service. (See inter alia CCPR/CO/83/GRC, paragraph 15). Noting Armenia’s commitment regarding alternative service further to its accession to the Council of Europe, she encourages the Government to initiate a review the law from the perspective of its compliance with international standards and best practices.

Azerbaijan: Communication sent on 17 March 2005 27/03/2006

25. The Special Rapporteur is grateful for the detailed response regarding Mr. Mahir Baghirov. However, she would like to refer the Government’s attention to Article 1 of Resolution 1998/77 of the Commission on Human Rights, which draws attention to the right of everyone to have conscientious objections to military service. This right is not, and should not be, limited to clerics and students of religious schools. She encourages the Government to review its legislation on alternative service, in accordance with international standards and best practices.

Communication: Government: Greece, sent on 9 June 2005 27/03/2006

138. The Special Rapporteur is grateful for the Government’s detailed response to her communication. However, she notes with concern the strict time limits for applying for conscientious objector status . In this regard, she draws the Government’s attention to Council of Europe Recommendation 1518(2001), which invites member states to introduce into their legislation "[t]he right to be registered as a conscientious objector at any time before, during or after conscription, or performance of military service". This acknowledges that conscientious objection may develop over time, and even after a person has already participated in military training or activities.

Republic of Korea: Communication sent on 24 May 2005 27/03/2006

292. The Special Rapporteur had received reports that 1030 Jehovah’s witnesses were jailed in the Republic of Korea because they refused to do military service for reasons related to their religious belief.” (…)
305. The Special Rapporteur is grateful for the Government’s detailed response. She has also taken note of the Government’s position on conscientious objectors through the third periodic State Party Report, which it submitted to the Human Rights Committee in February 2005 (CCPR/C/KOR/2005/3). While she notes that military service may sometimes be necessary for purposes of national security she would like to draw the Government’s attention to paragraph 11 of General Comment 22 of the Human Rights Committee which provides that although the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights “does not explicitly refer to a right to conscientious objection, the Committee believes that such a right can be derived from article 18, inasmuch as the obligation to use lethal force may seriously conflict with the freedom of conscience and the right to manifest one’s religion or belief.”

Interim report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion or belief Addendum 1 Situation in Turkey 11/08/2000

139. Finally, in accordance with the resolutions of the Commission on Human Rights (for example Resolution 1998/77 recognizing the right of everyone to have conscientious objections to military service as a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and General Commentary No. 22 (48) of 20 July 1993 of the Commission on Human Rights, and on the basis of the Turkish Constitution, which enshrines freedom of belief, the Special Rapporteur believes that regional characteristics and tensions are not sufficient to justify, in Turkey or anywhere else, a categorical rejection of conscientious objections, and recommends that legislation be adopted to guarantee the right to conscientious objections, particularly for religious beliefs.

Communications report, South Korea 15/02/2000

87. The Special Rapporteur, while understanding the concerns of the Republic of Korea, wishes to recall that the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, in several resolutions, such as resolution 1998/77, recognized the right of everyone to have conscientious objections to military service as a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as laid down in article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and General Comment No. 22 (48) of the Human Rights Committee. It also reminded States with a system of compulsory military service, where such a provision has not already been made, of its recommendation that they provide for conscientious objectors various forms of alternative service which are compatible with the reasons for conscientious objection, of non‑combatant or civilian character, in the public interest and of not punitive nature. Moreover, it should be pointed out pursuant to article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, freedom of belief cannot be subject to limitations, on the understanding that it is distinct from freedom to manifest a belief, which can be subject to limitations as provided for by international law.

Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief - Country visit to Greece 07/11/1996

40. The Special Rapporteur draws attention to resolution 1989/59 of 8 March 1989 of the Commission on Human Rights of the United Nations, reaffirmed inter alia in 1991 (resolution 1991/65 of 6 March 1991) and in 1993 (resolution 1993/84 of 10 March 1993), which recognizes "the right of everyone to have conscientious objections to military service as a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as laid down in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights" (para. 1) and which recommends to Member States "with a system of compulsory military service, where such provision has not already been made, that they introduce for conscientious objectors various forms of alternative service" (para. 3) which "should be in principle of a non-combatant or civilian character, in the public interest and not of a punitive nature" (para. 4).

Interim report on the elimination of all forms of religious intolerance prepared by the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights 16/10/1997

3. The right of conscientious objection
77. With regard to the third category of violations, the Special Rapporteur wishes to stress that the right of conscientious objection is a right which is closely linked with freedom of religion.
78. The Special Rapporteur considers it necessary to remind States of Commission on Human Rights resolution 1989/59, reaffirmed several times, which recognizes the right of everyone to have conscientious objections to military service as a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as laid down in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Commission therefore recommends to States with a system of compulsory military service, where such provision has not already been made, that they introduce for conscientious objectors various forms of alternative service which should be in principle of a non-combatant or civilian character, in the public interest and not of a punitive nature. In its resolution 1984/93 on conscientious objection to military service, the Commission on Human Rights also called for minimum guarantees to ensure that conscientious objection status can be applied for at any time.

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