AJC Convenes Dialogue with UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

October 29, 2012 – New York – Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, met with AJC’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights to discuss key issues about blasphemy laws, anti-Semitic incidents, and repression of religious minorities in Iran and other countries. Specialists from the Jewish and LDS communities, and several universities, engaged the Special Rapporteur in a two-hour discussion moderated by E. Robert Goodkind, chair of the Blaustein Institute (JBI).

“We welcome Mr. Bielefeldt’s clear-cut condemnation of all religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism in Chisinau, Moldova, where in December 2009 Orthodox Church members removed and demolished a Jewish Chanukah Menorah,” said Goodkind.  “Because of the increase in anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic acts around the world, we encouraged the Special Rapporteur to further condemn anti-Semitism in his future reports and communications.”

AJC leaders probed the Special Rapporteur on ways that his UN position protects and reinforces the norm that freedom of religion or belief counters the chilling effects of blasphemy laws, abuses of women’s equal rights to freedom of religion, combatting anti-Semitism, the persecution and detention of Christians and Baha’is in Iran, and male circumcision in Germany, among other issues.

Bielefeldt’s mandate is to identify existing and emerging obstacles to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief and to present recommendations on ways and means to overcome such obstacles.  

AJC and its Jacob Blaustein Institute have long worked to promote and protect freedom of religion or belief and combat religious intolerance worldwide, including anti-Semitism and other human rights abuses.  

This longstanding focus of JBI on freedom of religion has been deepened in recent years through efforts of the institute’s director, Felice Gaer, who served as a commissioner on the bipartisan federal U.S. Commission on International Freedom and regularly consulted with the various Special Rapporteurs from 2001 to 2012.

Earlier, AJC leaders fought to ensure that freedom of religion was included in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  An AJC leader introduced much of the language that then became part of the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, and tJBI  conducted studies, seminars and advocacy to help bring this about. 

Also participating in the meeting at AJC Headquarters were Professor Cole Durham, director of the International Center for Law and Religious Studies of Brigham Young University Law School; Edward Luck, Dean of the University of San Diego School of Peace Studies and former Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect, and representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

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