Image By S. Hermann & F. Richter in Pixabay
by Rene Wadlow.
22 August has been set by the United Nations General Assembly as the
“International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief”.
Due to Nazi and Japanese militarist persecution of religious groups during the Second World War; freedom of religion and belief was on the U.N. agenda from the start of the organization. The issue is at the heart of article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; proclaimed in 1948.
Religious non-governmental organizations (NGOs); were active during the San Francisco conference; at which the drafting of the U.N. Charter was completed. It was due in part to their active efforts that an article creating a consultative status for NGOs; was included into the U.N. Charter. NGOs in consultative status with the U.N; can make U.N. bodies aware of issues by providing timely; factual information. Often NGOs will address matters to U.N. agencies; when governmental delegations keep silence. The duty of NGOs is not to speak against States; but for the interests of humanity and human rights.
Spiritual But not Religious.
Although religious NGOs have had a wide range of interests to stress at U.N; meetings and conferences; such as the status of women, ecology, food policies; liberty of religion and belief; has always been a concern. The concern of religious liberty is not limited to religious NGOs; but is also championed by secular NGOs; such as Amnesty International and the Association of World Citizens.
Over time; there has developed a fairly large number of people; who consider themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” There has been the development of a growing number of associations devoted to practices; which have their roots in religious traditions; but can also be independent such as yoga, meditation, Chi Quong. Such associations often fall outside the usual governmental protection of religions – their tax status or other facilities concerning their buildings and properties.
Amnesty International at the Bologna Pride 2012, in Bologna, Italy. Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto, June 9 2012. By G.dallorto, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons.
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The U.N. holds that the religious liberty provisions of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration; are not limited in their applications to traditional religions; or to religions and beliefs; with institutional characteristics or practices similar to those of traditional religions. Thus; newly established movements and religious minorities should be protected.
Article 18 of the Univesal Declaration of Human Rights is developed in detail by the:
“Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance nd Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief”.
Adopted by the General Assembly on 25 November 1981. The Declaration recognizes that every individual has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, expression, and religion. The importance of inter-religious dilogue; is stresssed as is the need for intensified efforts to protect the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief and to eliminate all forms of hatred, intolerance and discrimination; based on religion or belief.
There is a hope that tolerance and pluralism will strengthen democracy; facilitate the full enjoyment of all human rights; and thereby constitute a sound foundation for civil society; social harmony and peace. Yet we are fully aware that forces of aggressive nationalism; absence of religious tolerance; religious and ethnic extremism continue to produce fresh challenges.
Eleanor Roosevelt holding poster of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (in English), Lake Success, New York. November 1949. By FDR Presidential Library & Museum, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.
The Islamic State (ISIS).
A tragic current example of victims of acts of violence based on religion or belief; is that of the Yazidis of Iraq at the hands of the Islamic State (ISIS). The Yazidi world view is Zoroastrian; a faith born in Persia proclaiming that two great cosmic forces; that of light and good; and that of darkness and evil are in constant battle. Humans are called upon to help light overcome evil.
However; the strict dualistic thinking of Zoroastrianism was modified by another Persian prophet: Mani of Ctesiphon in the third century CE. Mani tried to create a synthesis of religious; teachings that were increasingly coming into contact through travel and trade: Buddhim and Hinduism from India; Jewish and Christian thought; Helenistic Gnostic philosophy from Egypt and Greece as well as many smaller; traditional and “animist” beliefs.
Variant of the jihadist black flag. This particular version is used by the “Islamic State of Iraq” and by al-Shabaab in Somalia. By Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
He kept the Zoroastrian dualism as the most easily understood intellectual framework though; giving it a somewhat more Taoist (yin-yang) flexibility. Mani had lived in China. He developed the idea of the progression of the soul; by individual effort through separate lives through reincarnation – a main feature of Indian thought. He combined the idea of spiritual progress through different lives; with ethical insights of Gnostic and Christian thought. Unfortunately; only the dualistic Zoroastrian framework is still attached to Mani’s nme: Manichaeism. This is somewhat ironic as it was the Zoroastrian Magi; who had Mani put to death as a dangerous rival.
Within the Mani-Zoroastrian framework; the Yazidi added the presence of angels; who are to help humans in the constant battle for light and good. The Yazidi place great emphasis on Melek Tauis; the peacock angel. Although there are angels in Islam; angels that one does not know could well be demons; and so the Yazidis are regularly accused of being “demon worshipers”.
There are probably some 500,000 Kurdish-speaking Yazidis in Iraq. Iraq demographic statistics are not fully reliable. Yazidi leaders may give larger estimates by counting Kurds; who had been Yazidis; but had been converted to Islam. There had been some 200,000 Yazidis among the Kurds of Turkey; but now nearly all have migrated to Western Europe, Australia and Canada. There are smaller groups of Yazidis in Syria, Armenia and Georgia. (1)
The Yazidis have often been persecuted for their beliefs; and as part of the Kurdish-speaking community. This was true during the period of the Ottoman Empire; as well as during the Arab Ba’th Socialist Party rule of Iraq. However; the most recent and dramatic form of persecution came at the hands of the Islamic State (ISIS).
The Association of World Citizens stressed that the policy of the ISIS leadership was genocide – the destruction in whole or in part of a group. The killing of the Yazidis is a policy and not “collateral damage” from fighting. While ISIS has lost much of the territory in Iraq and Syria that it once held; the trauma continues. The Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief call upon NGOs for continued speedy and effective action.
1) See Nelida Fuccaro. The Other Kurds in Colonial Iraq (London: I.B. Tauris, 1999)
Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.
Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.
The Nazi Government of Germany had first moved against the Jews; considered as both a racial and a religious group. The Jews had long been a target of the Nazi movement; and the attack on them came as no surprise.
However; the 20 July 1937 banning of the theosophical movement and of others « Theosophically Related »; in the Nazi ideology was a turning point in Nazi repression.
On 20 July 1937; the Theosophical Society and the related Anthroposophical Society; which had been founded by Rudolf Steiner; who had been president of the German section of the Theosophical Society; were banned. The banning order was signed by the Reichfuhrer SS Heydrich; who warned that:
« The continuation and new foundation of this as well as the foundation of disguised succession organizations is prohibited. Simultaneously I herewith state because of the law about confiscation of property hostile to people and state that the property of the above mentioned organizations was used or intended for the promotion of intentions hostile to people and state. »
Thus all offices and buildings were confiscated.
Rudolf Steiner By Pausoak2018, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.
Left to right: Janowska concentration camp commandant Friedrich Warzok, SS-Gruppenfuhrer Fritz Katzmann, Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler during official visit at a place of extermination of Polish Jews from the Lwow Ghetto.
By Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
At the time; there was little organized protest. The League of Nations; while upholding tolerance and freedom of thought in general; had no specific declaration on freedom of religion; and no institutional structures to deal with protests. Now; the United Nations has a specific Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief of 25 November 1981; which builds upon Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; which states that:
« Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion : this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship or observance. »
As with all U.N. Instruments relating to freedom of religion; Article 18 represents a compromise. One of its achievements was the inclusion of the terms « thought » and « conscience »; which quietly embraced atheists and non-believers. The most divisive phrase; however, was :
« freedom to change one’s religion. »
The Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief; took nearly 20 years of difficult negotiations to draft. Preparations for the Declaration had begun in 1962. One of the most difficult areas in drafting the Declaration; concerned the rights of the child to have:
« access to education in the matter of religion or belief in accordance with the wishes of his parents and shall not be compelled to receive teaching on religion or belief against the wishes of his parents or legal guardians, the best interests of the child being the guiding principle. »
The Declaration goes on to state that:
« The child shall be protected from any form of discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. He shall be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples, peace and universal brotherhood, respect for freedom of religion or belief of others, and in full consciousness that his energy and talents should be devoted to the services of his fellow men. »
The Declaration highlights that there can be no doubt that freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief and the elimination of intolerance and discrimination based on religion; or belief are of a fundamental character; and derive from the inherent dignity and worth of the human person.
The gradual evolution of U.N. norms; on the issue of religious liberty has been a complex process; and is often a reflection of bi-lateral relations among Member States. This was especially true during the 1980s – the last decade of the U.S.-USSR Cold War. However; the end of the Cold War did not end religious tensions as an important factor in internal and international conflicts.
The 1981 Declaration cannot be implemented by U.N. Bodies alone. Effective implementation also requires efforts by non-governmental organizations (NGO). NGOs play a vital role in the development of the right to freedom of religion or belief; especially by advancing the cause of those still struggling to achieve this right.
Thus; the Association of World Citizens had been active in the late 1970s; when the U.N. Commission on Human Rights moved from New York to Geneva; on the formulation of the 1981 Declaration. Since then; the Association has worked closely with the Special Rapporteurs on Religious Liberty of the Commission; (now become the Human Rights Council). The Association has also raised publicly in the Commission certain specific situations and violations. The Association stresses the need for sound research and careful analysis. Citizens of the World have an important rôle to play in bringing spiritual and ethical insights; to promote reconciliation and healing in many parts of the world.
Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.