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UN rights expert urges promotion of freedom of religious conversion

UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Heiner Bielefeldt [official website] presented a report [text, PDF] to the General Assembly [official website] Thursday urging all member states to protect freedom of belief [press release] as it applies to religious conversion. Bielefeldt's report documents his analysis of global patterns of abuses in the area of religious conversion [UN News Centre report], detailing violations in which people are either restricted in their rights to conversion or are forced to convert or reconvert to become more "acceptable" to the society in which they live. The study points out that such abuses are usually carried out with an aim toward promoting national identity or protecting societal homogeneity, sometimes officially conducted under other pretexts such as maintaining political or national security. In his presentation Bielefeldt noted that those who exercise their right to convert are often subject to contempt and discrimination and other social pressures, but that the state can also impose "insurmountable administrative obstacles" to prevent converts from living out their religious conviction, sometimes involving criminal prosecution and in a few instances capital punishment for heresy or blasphemy. Regarding the right against forced conversion Bielefeldt expressed particular concern over pressure or threats experienced by women in the context of marriage negotiations, and stated that pressure on converts to reconvert to a previous religion is an undernoted issue. Bielefeldt further stated that the right of non-coercive persuasion to convert others to one's religion must also be protected, noting some states' imposition of tight legislative or administrative discriminatory restrictions on religious outreach activities.

Special rapporteurs are independent experts honorarily appointed by the Human Rights Council [official website] to examine and report in an unpaid capacity on a specific regional situation or human rights theme. Earlier this week Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Gabriela Knaul [official profile] made her annual presentation to the General Assembly, suggesting a policy of "strengthening the judiciary from within" in which governments develop anti-corruption bodies to ensure that judges act impartially and are free from political influence [JURIST report]. Earlier this month the special rapporteur on human rights in Iran released a report indicating that the government of Iran is torturing human rights activists [JURIST report] and threatening the activists' families with rape or death. Last month Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation Catarina de Albuquerque [official profile] lauded a new California law that creates a right to safe drinking water [JURIST report].

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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