Rights, Dilemmas and the Politicisation of The Freedom of Religion or Belief

Where does the recent, increased attention on freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) from states, NGOs and parliamentarians come from? How does it relate to domestic political issues? Which aspects of FoRB are affected, and what are the consequences for the relationship between FoRB and other fundamental human rights?

The above and related questions will be addressed by a panel, consisting of prominent international scholars of human rights.

Since the early 2000s, increasing numbers of states have followed the lead taken by the United States in 1998, adopting specific foreign policy objectives on the promotion and protection of The Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB). Ambassadors, special advisers and commissioners have been appointed and empowered to act as watchdogs and guardians to identify and prevent violations of this fundamental human right.

Simultaneously, numerous non-governmental organizations promote FoRB internationally through amicus briefs presented to the European Court of Human Rights, to the committees overseeing the United Nations human rights treaties, and to the Universal Periodic Review process overseen by the UN Human Rights Council. Frustrated with the lack of progress on FoRB protections worldwide, parliamentarians from a broad array of different countries have come together to form the International Panel on Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief, a network created in 2014 to promote FoRB worldwide.

This panel asks where this recent, increased attention on FoRB from states, NGOs and parliamentarians comes from, how it relates to domestic political issues, what dimensions of FoRB are promoted in the different initiatives, and what consequences a singular emphasis on FoRB has for the relationship between this and other fundamental human rights.

Featuring four prominent scholars of human rights, Pasquale Annicchino (EUI) and Nazila Ghanea-Hancock (Oxford), Cole Durham, (Brigham Young Law School) og Njål Høstmælingen (International Law and Policy Institute, Norway), the panel will also address the Norwegian effort to promote robust protection for religious minorities rather than the more individually oriented FoRB, and ask how this compares with the initiatives of other states.


Pasquale Annichino is Research Fellow at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, he is also a member of the EUI Ethics Committee. He has been Adjunct Professor of Law at BYU Law School (U.S.A.) and Visiting Professor at the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium).
He received his Ph.D. in Law (2011) from the University of Siena where he also graduated in law summa cum laude. He studied as an Erasmus student at the School of Law of Charles IV University in Prague (Czech Republic) and at the European Academy of Legal Theory in Brussels (Belgium) where he obtained a double degree (LL.M./D.E.A.). He was Visiting Scholar at the Centre for Law and Religion of the Emory University Law School in Atlanta (United States) and specialized (LL.M.) in European Public Law at University College London (United Kingdom) where he also served as Editor in Chief of the UCL Human Rights Review.

Nazila Ghanea is Associate Professor in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford. She serves as Associate Director of the Oxford Human Rights Hub and is a Fellow of Kellogg College (BA Keele, MA Leeds, PhD Keele, MA Oxon). She serves as a member of the OSCE Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief and on the Board of Trustees of the independent think tank, the Universal Rights Group. She has been a visiting academic at a number of institutions including Columbia and NYU, and previously taught at the University of London and Keele University, UK and in China. Nazila’s research spans freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, women’s rights, minority rights and human rights in the Middle East. Her publications include nine books, five UN publications as well as a number of journal articles and reports. Her research has been funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Board, the UK Economic and Social Research Council, Open Society and the QNRF. She has been invited to address UN expert seminars on seven occasions. From 2012-2014 she is co-leading a research team to look at the Domestic Impact of UN Treaty Ratification in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. From 2010-2013 she was part of a research term investigating ‘Religion and Belief, Discrimination and Equality in England and Wales: Theory, Policy and Practice’ (2010-2013). She has also received a number of university scholarships and academic awards. Nazila has acted as a human rights consultant/expert for a number of governments, the UN, UNESCO, OSCE, 

Njål Høstmælingen is Managing Partner and Director of ILPI Centre for human rights at ILPI, attorney at law, holding an LL.M from the University of Oslo. Høstmælingen has served as deputy judge, head of administration at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, and head of the National Human Rights Institution. He has over the last 15 years carried out consultancies for Norwegian ministries, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, and business enterprises. Høstmælingen has published and edited a wide range of books and articles on national implementation of international human rights law, corporate social responsibility, and civil and political rights, and was editor of the Norwegian Human Rights Plan of Action. Høstmælingen is inter alia member of the board of the Norwegian Red Cross and the Norwegian International Law Association, and former member of the Norwegian Biotechnological Advisory Board and former editor of the Nordic Journal of Human Rights. Høstmælingen is also associated with ILPI Centre for African Studies and attached to the ILPI Centre for International Humanitarian Law.

Cole Durham is President of the International Consortium for Law and Religion Studies (Milan); Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Journal for Law and Religion Studies; and Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, where he was a Note Editor of the Harvard Law Review and Managing Editor of the Harvard International Law Journal, Professor Cole Durham has been heavily involved in comparative law scholarship, with a special emphasis on comparative constitutional law. Professor Durham served from 1997-2013 as a member of the Advisory Council on Freedom of Religion or Belief of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. He has provided technical assistance on constitutions and laws dealing with freedom of religion or belief in approximately 50 countries worldwide. He is also a co-editor of Facilitating Freedom of Religion or Belief:  A Deskbook, which was published in 2004 by Brill under the Martinus Nijhoff imprint. Over the past several years, he has participated in hearings before the U.S. Congress and European parliamentary bodies on a variety of issues relevant to freedom of religion.  

Tags: FORB, politization of FORB, religious rights
Published Oct. 26, 2015 9:51 AM - Last modified Jan. 6, 2016 1:46 PM