INTERVENTION BY THE PERMANENT OBSERVER OF THE HOLY SEE
STATEMENT BY H.E. MONS. SILVANO MARIA TOMASI, C.S.*
1. The unswerving commitment to religious freedom and to the elimination of all forms of religious intolerance is an important priority for the Delegation of the Holy See. My Delegation shares such a preoccupation with this Commission and it supports a continued engagement in highlighting often invisible or underplayed abuses with only a faint echo in the international arena. Based on the very dignity of the human person, and not on a concession by the State, is the right that no men or women should be forced to act against their convictions nor restrained from acting in accordance with their convictions in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in association with others (1). The reaffirmation of this basic human right and its universal application is both timely and needed. It not only reflects the often-stated position of the Holy See; it underscores the requirements of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (art. 18) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and of the other accepted instruments on the free exercise of religion in society, such as the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. In fact, there seems to emerge the risk of underestimating that "the social nature of the human person requires that individuals give external expression to internal acts of religion, that they communicate with others on religious matters", especially with their religious Authorities, that they may choose to change religion, that they may promote institutions, freely appoint their own ministers, access property for their own needs, and similar activities, of course, without any infringement of the rights of others.
2. This fundamental human right must remain among the issues of concern to the world community since its violation continues and even deteriorates in some cases with regard to both Christians and other religious groups, especially if their situation is that of a minority, as the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of religion and belief and on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance have pointed out. A policy of non-engagement seems acceptable in some places when Christian and other religious minorities are threatened or outright persecuted and in this way the indivisibility of human rights is weakened. "The right to freedom of religion", observes Pope John Paul II, "is so closely linked to the other fundamental human rights that it can rightly be argued that respect for religious freedom is, as it were, a touchstone for the observance of the other fundamental rights" (2).
3. The respect for religious freedom is key to a peaceful and constructive coexistence. The process of globalization we witness brings about an increased pluralism even in societies that have remained isolated for centuries, and the growing phenomenon of migration brings religions in a closer contact among themselves through the concrete expression and the behaviour of their adherents. Without mutual respect and the State's commitment to an impartial and active implementation of the right to religious freedom, the potential for destructive conflicts and the loss of freedom for society become unfortunately quite predictable. Then, to counteract any homogenizing tendency of globalization, the search for community has intensified and often religion is a major component of this effort. Extreme forms of secularism that do not acknowledge a public role of religion become socially counterproductive.
4. Mr Chairperson, to old prejudices and discriminatory laws the right to freedom of religions and belief is confronted with new challenges, like the open hostility and even death met by religious persons engaged in the defence of human rights and like the deficit on religious tolerance toward several communities of Christians brought about by the War on Terror. Renewed vigilance and discernment are called for. The serious application of the existing instruments on the right to religious freedom and belief and a continued monitoring will facilitate that "religious freedom be everywhere provided with an effective constitutional guarantee, and that respect be shown for the high duty and right of man freely to lead his religious life in society" (3). States, in fact, are primarily responsible for the respect of these rights. General education and interreligious dialogue, however, will go a long way in making everyone aware of the critical importance of mutual respect and appreciation, and this at a moment when some non-State actors colour their unacceptable violent actions with religious ideals. Monitoring of the right to religious freedom will be more effective if accurate data could be systematically collected and professionally analyzed.
5. In conclusion, Mr Chairperson, this Delegation is convinced that "together with religious freedom, all other freedoms develop and thrive". Freedom of thought, conscience and religion is a right provided for by international human-rights norms for individuals, communities and their institutional structures, three inseparable dimensions. The full implementation of this right is the challenge ahead for all of us.
1) Cf. Vatican Ecumenical Council II, Declaration on Religious Freedom, n. 2.
2) John Paul II, "Address to the Diplomatic Corps", Rome, January 9, 1989, n. 6.
3) Vatican Ecumenical Council II, "Dignitatis Humanae", n. 15.
*L’Osservatore Romano, 13.04.2005 p.11.