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un special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief

Madeleine Brecher represented ICJW at a meeting of the NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief on  October 25, 2016 , to meet Ahmed Shaheed,   Incoming UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. 

Ahmed Shaheed is a Maldivian diplomat and politician  and an expert on human rights. This month, he issued his final report as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Islamic Republic of Iran, and tomorrow, he will be charged as the Incoming Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. At this luncheon meeting of members of the NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion and Belief (FoRB), Mr. Shaheed laid out his vision for his new position. 

The framework he presented was extensive and well thought out; and he made an extraordinary impression on the group of NGO representatives in the room especially when he advised us that he has a day job and will only be working three months of the year on his UN position. He will have a staff of one and a half persons to advise and assist. Will he ever sleep, we wondered? He seems to be a deeply sensitive gentleman who will be a fine advocate for global freedom of religion or belief.

Without freedom of religion or belief, other political rights are nil. States sign proclamations but failure to implement them with laws and action is unacceptable. Mr. Shaheed stated that it’s “uncool” to uphold FoRB but he hopes to engage with faith communities and governments to see that they elevate human rights protections, set up action plans, hold interfaith dialogues, and counter violent extremism (CVE). Most importantly, they must put money into their budgets to support this work.

Ahmed Shaheed assured us that there will be no taboo subjects for him. At the start, he will not upload the most controversial items but he assured us that he will get to them. He will try to visit countries for fact-finding. Tunisia will be easy since he will be welcome there. Saudia 
Arabia will present problems but he will find other means to get the information he needs. As 

I was the only Jewish representative in the room, and he looked over at me when he said he will address anti-Semitism in Europe. He will make indigenous visits to Latin America. Implementation and FoRB will be his buzzwords.

It is interesting to realize that when there is one main religion in a country, there is generally far more persecution of others. A pluralistic society tends to have more respect for the human rights and religions of others. Mr. Shaheed has found that naming and shaming works well when FoRB is the goal. It is critical that a country’s diplomats are “tooled” to understand human rights and how to protect citizens.

It was an open and transparent meeting and one left feeling secure that Ahmed Shaheed will work hard to promote freedom of religion or belief as the new UN rapporteur.