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The Shared Space of Human Rights and Religious Freedom

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Dear Friends

This letter is to invite you to take part in a very exciting project focused on the human right to the freedom of religion and belief. The project will run from 2004-2006; however, we need your input now to assist us in laying the foundations for this work. Your input can make a difference!

‘The Shared Space of Human Rights and Religious Freedom’ is a project being undertaken by both the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) and PDHRE, People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning. The aim is to create a package that will include audio visual materials and an accompanying manual on human rights related to the freedom of religion and belief. Why did we choose to elaborate on these human rights? In a world of growing religious conflict and extremism, honouring these human rights is fundamental to the future of humanity. Too many people do not enjoy the freedom to worship, or to practice what they believe. Some may even be oppressed or persecuted for trying to exercise these human rights.

More broadly, every individual has the human right to live in security, justice, equality, and dignity and without discrimination in their local and global communities. As such, learning about human rights as a way of life can bring about social transformation. To create a better common future, each individual has a stake in ensuring that the human rights of ‘the other’ are respected, protected, and promoted. In the case of freedom of religion or belief, if my human right to worship freely is not respected (and protected) then maybe yours will not be either. So, what part can you play in guaranteeing these human rights for everyone?

We are humbly requesting your contribution as follows:

  1. Read the attached document to see what our organisations (and the United Nations!) think are important human rights to be respected when it comes to the freedom of religion or belief.
  2. Send us a true story that can be dramatised and videotaped and which will show the impact of the lack of such human rights in people’s lives. If you, or someone you know, has experienced a denial of his or her human right to practice their religion or belief, we want to hear these stories. How did they unfold on a personal level? Who were the people involved; what were the circumstances; and, what was the outcome?

Many such stories may be known only to those who would not normally respond to a letter such as this! They may be from a primarily oral and not a literary tradition. Thus it is our hope that you will agree to be the agent to enable the vital connection to be made. It means arranging an effective consultation, discussion or story-telling process, which is appropriate to their local culture and sensitivities. Please identify the affected group(s) whose freedom of religion you know to be threatened by others. Ensure that in the listening process a tape recorder or other acceptable means of transcription is included.

Stories need only be outlined in a few paragraphs, certainly no longer than 2 pages. Please send them to the following address, no later than 25 July 2004.

By email: pdhre@igc.org 

By post:

People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning
526 West 111th Street; Suite 4E
New York, NY 10025

What are our organisations going to do with this information? The stories that can best evoke empathy and learning, will be featured in a video presentation. These audio-visual materials will eventually be accompanied by a training manual, which will help learners to start dialogues about their internationally-protected human right to freedom of religion, of belief and of conscience. The materials will eventually be used in training seminars around the world, but especially in Bangladesh, India, the Philippines, and South Africa.

Although we are interested to hear mostly from those of you living in these four countries, stories on this topic from anywhere in the world will be welcomed! For example, stories on women’s human rights as they relate to freedom of religion and belief, or on the right to conscientious objection from military service on the grounds of religion or belief are just two examples of many religious freedom issues. [See the attached document for other examples.]

We cannot guarantee that your story will be chosen, we may only use part of it, and we will use fictional names. However, if your story is among those that we select to feature in our video presentation, you will be making a very valuable contribution to helping us raise awareness about the key human right to the freedom of religion and belief. Real stories like yours, or ones you may be familiar with, do have impact. Let us hear about them!

(Note: After proper acknowledgement of their origins, the copyright of the eventual materials produced will be held solely in the name and for the benefit of the two charities which have produced them.)

Thank you very much for your kind attention and we hope to hear from you soon!

In Solidarity,

Shulamith Koenig

Shulamith Koenig Minar Pimple



Rights to Freedom of Religion or Belief

United Nations

"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his [her] religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his [her] religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18, 1948.)

"Freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief 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."

(UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, 1981. Full text at: http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/d_intole.htm)

"Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions. The Committee therefore views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reasons, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility by a predominant religious community." (General Comment 22 on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; adopted by the Human Rights Cmte., 1993.)

IARF’s Statement of Purpose

The purpose of the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) is to work for freedom of religion and belief because it is a precious human right that potentially enables the best within our religious lives, or our search for truth or enlightenment, to flourish. It requires:

  • Freedom from oppressive interference or discrimination by the state, government or society’s institutions on the grounds of religion or belief;
  • Mutual understanding, respect and the promotion of harmony, or at least "tolerance", between communities or individuals of different religions or beliefs;
  • An essential accountability by religious communities to ensure that their own practices uphold the fundamental dignity and human rights of their members and others.

PDHRE Priorities

The human right to freedom of religion or belief includes the following indivisible, interdependent and interrelated human rights to:

  • Freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
  • Manifest one’s religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
  • Freedom from discrimination based on religious beliefs or activities, or because of refusal to conform to a certain religion.
  • Freedom of expression and of association.
  • Conscientious objection on grounds of religious belief.
  • Parents to choose schools for their children which ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.


For more information, please contact PDHRE:
The People's Movement for Human Rights Education, 526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325; e-mail: pdhre@igc.org