“Jordan, a voice of religious moderation that has to be defended in a volatile region” – UN expert

GENEVA (10 September 2013) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Heiner Bielefeldt today praised Jordan as “a safe haven and voice of religious moderation,” in a regional environment where religion has become increasingly politicized in recent years, but highlighted increasing concerns about religious extremism.

“Being itself an Islamic country with a vast majority of Sunni Muslims, Jordan has taken the lead in promoting peaceful interreligious coexistence in the region,” Mr. Bielefeldt said* at the end of the first visit to the country by an independent expert mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor freedom of religion or belief worldwide.

“When visiting a number of schools – both public and private – I saw students from Christian and Muslim families learning together under the supervision of teachers who likewise came from different religious backgrounds,” the expert noted. “Religious differences are mostly seen as something natural, perhaps not even worth highlighting.”

The Special Rapporteur drew attention to the situation of a few small religious communities not recognized by the State, including the Baha’is and some Evangelical denominations, which do not have any status as a legal personality and face big problems when it comes to organizing a sustainable community life. “This raises serious concerns under freedom of religion or belief, which is not a right merely of individuals but also of communities,” the expert stressed.

The Special Rapporteur emphasized, “amicable relations between people of different religious or philosophical persuasions can never be taken for granted. They need to be defended, cherished and further developed based on respect for everyone’s freedom of religion or belief. This requires continuous efforts of building trust through institutions and through communication.”

The issue of incitement to religious hatred has attracted increased international attention which has resulted in the Rabat Plan of Action. The plan is based on experiences that many countries from different regions have gained in addressing collective religious hatred, which typically goes together with misogynic tendencies, in effective ways while fully preserving – or creating – a climate of freedom of expression to ensure that people can publicly express their grievances and problems.

“Many of the measures recommended in this Plan fit quite well with activities that have already been undertaken by the Government of Jordan,” Mr. Bielefeldt said. “At the same time, it might be useful for the Government to invite religious communities, civil society organizations, media representatives and other stakeholders to jointly explore the full potential of the Rabat Plan of Action for Jordan when it comes to combating manifestations of religious hatred caused by religious extremism.”

During his ten-day visit, the human rights expert met with a wide range of relevant Government officials and agencies, as well as representatives of religious or belief communities and civil society organizations in Amman, Karak and Zaatri refugee camp near Mafraq.

The Special Rapporteur will present a report containing his conclusions and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in 2014.

Heiner Bielefeldt assumed his mandate on 1 August 2010. He is Professor of Human Rights and Human Rights Politics at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg. From 2003 to 2009, he was Director of Germany’s National Human Rights Institution. Mr. Bielefeldt’s research interests include various interdisciplinary facets of human rights theory and practice, with a focus on freedom of religion or belief. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomReligion/Pages/FreedomReligionIndex.aspx

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13698&LangID=E

UN Human Rights, country page – Jordan: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/JOIndex.aspx

Download the “Rapporteur's Digest on Freedom of Religion or Belief”: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Religion/RapporteursDigestFreedomReligionBelief.pdf

Check the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/ReligionOrBelief.aspx

For more information and media requests please contact in Amman:
Nora Isayan (+962 79 5392926/ nora.isayan@one.un.org) or
Sharof Azizov (+41 79 201 0118/ sazizov@ohchr.org) or write to freedomofreligion@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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