On the occasion of the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed presented his latest report, which addresses the urgent and serious issue of the use of religion to justify discrimination and violence against women and LGBT+ persons. The European Humanist Federation (EHF) welcomes this thorough analysis and the recommendations he puts forward.
As the Special Rapporteur observed, “women, girls and LGBT+ persons endure myriad forms of violence perpetrated by non-state actors, which are often implicitly or explicitly sanctioned by influential religious laws and discourse”. There is “considerable evidence that in all regions of the world, actors citing religious justifications for their actions have advocated to governments and to the broader public for the preservation or imposition of laws and policies that (…) discriminate against women, girls and LGBT+ persons”. Moreover, “laws identified as intended to protect the right of all individuals to manifest their religion or belief have been applied in a manner that has resulted in discrimination in practice” based on their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.
NGOs that participated in consultations, including the EHF, alerted the Special Rapporteur on “the increasing use of religion or belief to deny reproductive health and sexual rights; criminalize protected conduct and deny the equal personhood of LGBT+ persons; or to undermine the right to freedom of religion or belief to women, girls and LGBT+ persons”.
The EHF also shares the Special Rapporteur’s deep concern about campaigns by religious interest groups “characterizing rights advocates working to combat gender-based discrimination as ‘immoral’ actors, seeking to undermine society by espousing ‘a gender ideology’ that is harmful to children, families, tradition and religion.” These groups misuse freedom of religion or belief “in the media, through litigation and political campaigns to counter human rights in the name of religion or belief”.
The EHF is also alarmed that in many countries, including within the EU, accommodations for religious beliefs made “access to legal abortion effectively unavailable to women in significant parts of the country”.
The Report clearly stresses that “freedom of religion or belief must not be used for ends that are inconsistent with the United Nations Charter or relevant human rights instruments”, in particular the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.
The EHF fully shares the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations, in particular that States should combat all forms of violence and coercion perpetrated against women, girls and LGBT+ persons justified with reference to religious practice or belief, ensure the right to health for women, adolescents and LGBT+ persons, and their effective access to reproductive health services and comprehensive sexuality education.
The EHF also joins the Rapporteur’s call to States to repeal laws criminalizing offences such as blasphemy or “offence to religious feelings”.
Featured photo credit: Jean-Marc Ferré