The Netherlands: UN expert calls on Government to build resilience into country’s longstanding achievements in upholding freedom of religion or belief

GENEVA/THE HAGUE April 5, 2019 – The Government of the Netherlands must reinforce its achievements in upholding freedom of religion or belief, to address emerging challenges like rising antisemitism and Islamophobia, says the UN Special Rapporteur on the issue, Ahmed Shaheed.

“The guarantees of freedom of religion or belief provided in law and in practice are generally robust and include a number of good practices,” said Shaheed presenting an end of mission statement statement at the end of a country visit to the country.

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“A key feature of these guarantees is the commitment to State neutrality in matters of religion or belief, equal treatment for all, and to international human rights standards.”

Shaheed also referred to emerging challenges which required continued investment in the rule of law and the promotion of pluralism and inclusive policies.

“There are emerging concerns such as the growing polarisation of society between those with communal commitments to religion, including the public manifestation of religion or belief, and those who espouse a secular world view and who increasingly oppose longstanding traditions of accommodation and moderation.”

“Of particular concern is rising antisemitism and exclusionary discourse directed at the Muslim community. This is not only manifesting itself in the attitudes of some quarters of society including the media, but also through legislative measures that are already in place or in the pipeline and are likely to have a disproportionate impact on the freedom of religion or belief of minority communities,” he said.

“The Government will need to carefully address these matters to ensure that all communities continue to feel safe, welcomed and included in society. This will require strengthening institutional and societal resilience to uphold longstanding commitments to non-discrimination and to freedom of religion or belief for all,” he added.

“Despite some worrying trends, there is evidence, however, that the Government, is responding to these challenges in a careful and thoughtful manner. Some of these responses of the Government constitute good practice that should be shared with others. This includes the Government’s practices for promoting interreligious dialogue, cooperating with religious or belief communities and efforts to enhance religious literacy.”

During his nine-day visit to the country, Shaheed had meetings with Government officials and representatives of civil society, including human rights defenders and monitors, as well as members of faith-based communities and the academic world. He travelled to The Hague, Utrecht, Amsterdam and Rotterdam to visit various communities and institutions.

Shaheed’s final report containing his conclusions and recommendations will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2020.

Mr. Ahmed Shaheed (the Maldives) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016. Mr. Shaheed is Deputy Director of the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex, UK and Senior Fellow of the Raoul Wallenberg Human Rights Centre in Canada. He was Foreign Minister of the Maldives from 2005 to 2007 and from 2008 to 2010. He led the country’s efforts to sign and ratify all nine international human rights Conventions and to implement them in law and practice. Mr. Shaheed is the former Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran.  

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.  

An e-Digest on Freedom of Religion or Belief – 25 years of thought by four UN Special Rapporteurs  

Check the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.

UN Human Rights, Country Page – the Netherlands