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Saturday, 12 December 2009
Littman: Address to UNHRC on Freedom to Change Religion


UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL (2nd Session: 19 to 30 October 2009)
Ad Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of Complementary Standards
President: Ambassador Idriss Jazaïry (Algeria)
STATEMENT: Representative David G. LITTMAN – Tuesday (@ 5.50pm) 27 October 2009
Additional essential and practical provisions related to the obligation of States, int. al.–
Multiple forms of discrimination: Freedom of speech – religion – gender equality
Proposals on the format and nature of possible complementary standards to be elaborated
(Summary drafted from notes used to deliver 5th oral statement on 27 October toward the close)
         [Documentation provided in brackets [ ] and the note were not pronounced in the 2 minutes statement]
Freedom to Change one’s Religion or Belief without any Restrictions         
Thank you, Mr President,  we wish to enlarge upon what was stated just before by the delegate of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the European Union (EU), who referred to the 1995 Barcelona Agreement, the Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation – an intercultural Alliance of Civilizations “on both sides of the Mediterranean” 1 – as she described it. She also stressed our cherished “religious, philosophical and humanist values”, the importance of freedom of expression & religion, gender equality, women’s rights, and unrestricted freedom of all to change a religion – and that there should be no “no complementary standards” in regard to universal human rights.
Saudi Arabia’s representative stated soon after that: “we are here to learn intercultural dialogue.” He was at pains to assure us that …we must live together, enjoying peace,  that Islam is a tolerant religion which rejects hate, and that Muslims respect the other religions and wish to dialogue with them.
Mr President, on hearing these glowing and well-meaning declarations, we wish to ask whether it would be possible for this Ad Hoc Committee to ‘test’ the optimism hanging in the air by asking each and every representative of the UN Member States here present – those which have adhered to and ratified the UN Bill of Human Rights and the other International Covenants – whether it would be possible for any citizen in their country to decide to change his or her religion and adopt another faith or belief or non-belief? Especially, does their local legislation permit or punish such an individual’s
action, which  is guaranteed under international law and widely proclaimed here; or is it forbidden for persons of any specific religion or faith to do so? This is a crucial question that needs a clear reply here, otherwise we would be turning back the clock.
Thank you, Sir.
1. The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, formerly known as the “Barcelona Process” (November 1995), was re-launched as the “Union for the Mediterranean” (Paris Summit, July 2008). The “Partnership” now includes all 27 member states of the European Union, along with 16 partners across the southern Mediterranean and the Middle East. The partnership was organised into three main dimensions, which remain today as the broad working areas of the Union for the Mediterranean:  
– Political and Security Dialogue, aimed at creating a common area of peace and stability, underpinned by sustainable development, rule of law, democracy and human rights.
– Economic and Financial Partnership, including the gradual establishment of a free-trade area aimed at promoting shared economic opportunity through sustainable and balanced socio-economic development.
– Social, Cultural & Human Partnership, aimed at promoting understanding and intercultural dialogue between cultures, religions and people, and facilitating exchanges between civil society and ordinary citizens, particularly women and young people
Posted on 12/12/2009 7:51 AM by Rebecca Bynum
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