Tag Archives: International Human Rights

“Religion and Human Rights” (Črpić & Ziebertz eds.)

This January, Springer Publishing will release “Religion and Human Rights: An International Perspective” edited by Hans-Georg Ziebertz (University of Würzburg, Germany) and Gordan Crpic (Catholic University in Zagreb, Croatia).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religion and Human Rights​This book examines the relationship between human rights and religiosity. It discusses whether the impact of religiosity on human rights is liberational or suppressive, and sheds light on the direction in which the relationship between religion and human rights is expected to develop. The questions explored in this volume are: Which are the rights that are currently debated or under pressure? What is the position on human rights that churches and religious communities represent? Are there tensions between churches, religious communities and the state? Which rights are especially relevant for young people and which relate to adolescents life-world experiences? Covering 17 countries, the book describes two separate, yet connected studies. The first study presents research by experts from individual countries describing the state of human rights and neuralgic points anticipated in individual societies. The other study presents specific findings on the relationship between these two social phenomena from empirical research in a population of high school students. Studying this particular population allows insights into social trends, value systems and attitudes on human rights, as well as an indication of the likely directions of development, and potential room for intervention.

Video: Movsesian Lecture on Mideast Christians at Lanier Theological Library

For those who might be interested, the Lanier Theological Library has made available a video of my lecture last month, “Religious Freedom for Mideast Christians: Yesterday and Today.” In the lecture, I discuss the history of the Mideast’s Christian communities, their persecution today, and what Americans can do about it.

The video is below. Thanks again to Mark Lanier and everyone at the library for hosting me!

Gubo, “Blasphemy and Defamation of Religions in a Polarized World”

This December, Lexington Books will release “Blasphemy and Defamation of Religions in a Polarized World: How Religious Fundamentalism is Challenging Fundamental Human Rights” by Darara Gubo.  The publisher’s description follows:

The 21st century has been significantly shaped by the growing importance of religion in international politics resulting in rising polarization among nation states. This new dynamic has presented new challenges to international human rights principles. This book deals with some of these new challenges, particularly the growing demand by Muslim states for protection of Islamic religion from blasphemy and defamation. Member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), through resolutions at the United Nations, made efforts to introduce laws that globally protect Islamic religion from blasphemy and defamation. The bid by OIC member states faced opposition from Western countries. The conflicting claims of the two sides are discussed in this book. The book clearly shows the impact of blasphemy and defamation of religion laws on certain aspects of fundamental human rights principles.

“Mapping the Legal Boundaries” (Provost, ed.)

This December, Oxford University Press will release “Mapping the Legal Boundaries: Religion and Multiculturalism from Israel to Canada” edited by Rene Provost (McGill University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Mapping the Legal BoundariesFor several decades, culture played a central role in challenging the liberal tradition. More recently however, religion has re-emerged as one of the central challenges facing Western liberal societies’ conception of multiculturalism. Mapping the Legal Boundaries of Belonging explores the complex relationship between religion and multiculturalism and the role of the state and law in the creation of boundaries.

The intersection between religion, nationalism and other vectors of difference in Canada and Israel offer an ideal laboratory in which to examine multiculturalism in particular and the governance of diversity in general. The contributors to this volume investigate concepts of religious difference and diversity and the ways in which these two states and legal systems understand and respond to them. As a consequence of a purportedly secular human rights perspective, they show, state laws may appear to define religious identity in a way that contradicts the definition found within a particular religion. Both state and religion make the same mistake if they take a court decision that emphasizes individual belief and practice as effecting a direct modification of a religious norm: the court lacks the power to change the authoritative internal definition of who belongs to a particular faith. Similarly, in the pursuit of a particular model of social diversity, the state may adopt policies that imply a particular private/public distinction foreign to some religious traditions.

Al-Jabri, “Democracy, Human Rights and Law in Islamic Thought”

This November, I.B. Tauris Publishers will release “Democracy, Human Rights and Law in Islamic Thought” by Mohammed Abed Al-Jabri (Mohammed V University, Morocco).  The publisher’s description follows:

9781780766508Mohammad Abed al-Jabri is one of the most influential political philosophers in the contemporary Middle East. A critical rationalist in the tradition of Avincenna and Averroes, he emphasizes the distinctive political and cultural heritage of the Arab world whilst rejecting the philosophical discourses that have been used to obscure its democratic deficit. This volume introduces an English-language audience for the first time to writings that have had a major impact on Arab political thought. Wide-ranging in scope yet focused in detail, these essays interrogate concepts such as democracy, law, and human rights, looking at how they have been applied in the history of the Arab world, and show that they are determined by political and social context, not by Islamic doctrine. Jabri argues that in order to develop democratic societies in which human rights are respected, the Arab world cannot simply rely on old texts and traditions. Nor can it import democratic models from the West. Instead, he says, a new tradition will have to be forged by today’s Arabs themselves, on their own terms.

Cismas, “Religious Actors and International Law”

In July, Oxford University Press released “Religious Actors and International Law” by Ioana Cismas (New York University Law School). The publisher’s description follows:

This book assesses whether a new category of actors-religious actors-has been constructed within international law. Religious actors, through their interpretations of the religion(s) they are associated with, uphold and promote, or indeed may transform, potentially oppressive structures or discriminatory patterns. This study moves beyond the concern that religious texts and practices may be incompatible with international law, to provide an innovative analysis of how religious actors themselves are accountable under international law for the interpretations they choose to put forward.

The book defines religious actors as comprising religious states, international organizations, and non-state entities that assume the role of interpreting religion and so claim a ‘special’ legitimacy anchored in tradition or charisma. Cutting across the state / non-state divide, this definition allows the full remit of religious bodies to be investigated. It analyses the crucial question of whether religious actors do in fact operate under different international legal norms to non-religious states, international organizations, or companies. To that end, the Holy See-Vatican, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and churches and religious organizations under the European Convention on Human Rights regime are examined in detail as case studies.

The study ultimately establishes that religious actors cannot be seen to form an autonomous legal category under international law: they do not enjoy special or exclusive rights, nor incur lesser obligations, when compared to their respective non-religious peers. Going forward, it concludes that a process of two-sided legitimation may be at stake: religious actors will need to provide evidence for the legality of their religious interpretations to strengthen their legitimacy, and international law itself may benefit from religious actors fostering its legitimacy in different cultural contexts.

Videos from the Rome Conference on International Religious Freedom and the Global Clash of Values

Here are the videos from June’s conference, “International Religious Freedom and the Global Clash of Values,” which the Center for Law and Religion co-hosted in Rome, together with the St. John’s Center for International and Comparative Law and the Faculty of Law at Libera Università Maria SS. Assunta (LUMSA):

Introduction by Michael Simons, Dean of St. John’s University School of Law

Introduction by Angelo Rinella, Dean of the Faculty of Law at LUMSA

Keynote by Thomas Farr, Director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center

Pasquale Annicchino, Research Fellow at the Robert Schuman Center for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute

Heiner Bielefeldt, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

Hon. Ken Hackett, United States Ambassador to the Holy See

Francisca Pérez-Madrid, Professor of Law at the University of Barcelona

Marco Ventura, Professor of Law at KU Leuven and the University of Siena

Roberto Zaccaria, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Florence

Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law

Olivier Roy, Joint Chair of the Robert Schuman Center for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute

Nina Shea, Director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute

Conference Conclusion by Giuseppe Dalla Torre, Rector of LUMSA 

Don’t Forget the Christians

This past weekend, the United States began to intervene in the humanitarian crisis unfolding in northern Iraq. The Islamist group, ISIS, has made a lightning conquest of much of the region, persecuting religious minorities, and even some Sunni Muslims, everywhere it goes. In response, the US has begun air drops of food and water to up to 40,000 Yazidi refugees stranded on Mt. Sinjar, where ISIS militants have them surrounded. And the US undertook airstrikes against ISIS positions threatening the Kurdish city of Erbil, where hundreds of American advisers are stationed. Other Western nations have begun to get involved as well. The United Kingdom dropped supplies to the Yazidis on Mt. Sinjar, and France’s Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, visited Erbil to assess the situation.

BBC

Christian Refugees in Erbil (BBC)

In planning and delivering assistance to Iraqi refugees, the West — and particularly the United States, which has taken primary responsibility — should not ignore the plight of Christians. It may seem odd to voice this concern. After all, President Obama specifically mentioned Christians in his statements about American action. But Mideast Christians are often an afterthought for the United States, and it seems they are in this situation again. A Wall Street Journal report, which quotes unnamed members of the Obama administration, indicates the threat of genocide against Yazidis was the primary factor in the American decision to intervene. “This was qualitatively different from even the awful things that we’ve confronted in different parts of the region because of the targeted nature of it, the scale of it, the fact that this is a whole people,” the official said.

That is a rather myopic view of the situation. We’re offering assistance to 40,000 Yazidi refugees whom ISIS has driven from their homes and threatened to slaughter. Great—we should. But in the weeks before ISIS turned on the Yazidis, it had displaced more than 100,000 Christians from their homes and driven them into the desert. ISIS eliminated major Christian communities in Mosul and Qaraqosh, and the US responded only with a concerned statement from its UN ambassador. And this is to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of Christians who have become refugees since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. If genocide correctly describes what threatens the Yazidis, it also describes what’s happening to Iraqi Christians. Indeed, many of these Christians are the descendents of people who suffered genocide at the beginning of the 20th century.

There are reasons why America tends to treat Mideast Christians as an afterthought. Mideast Christians lack a natural constituency in American public life. They are, as one commentator observed, too foreign for the Right and too Christian for the Left. Most of our foreign policy elites have a blind spot about them. And I don’t mean to single out the Obama administration. Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute has recounted her attempts to get the Bush administration to focus on the plight of Iraq’s Christians, only to be told by Condoleezza Rice that assistance for Christians would make the United States appear sectarian.

To draw attention to the plight of Iraq’s Christians is not special pleading. The US should not concern itself only with Christians; other religious minorities deserve our attention, too. But, in the Middle East and around the world, Christians are often targeted for persecution in particularly severe ways, and the human rights community often seems not to notice. Indeed, as Pope Francis explained in remarks at a conference the Center for Law and Religion co-sponsored in Rome this summer, Christians suffer perhaps the largest share of religious persecution in the world today:

It causes me great pain to know that Christians in the world submit to the greatest amount of such discrimination. Persecution against Christians today is actually worse than in the first centuries of the Church, and there are more Christian martyrs today than in that era. This is happening more than 1700 years after the edict of Constantine, which gave Christians the freedom to publicly profess their faith.

It’s good that the United States has begun attempts to alleviate a human rights crisis for which it bears much responsibility. Let’s hope it does not ignore some of the principal victims of that crisis.

#BringBackOurChristians

Last spring, Boko Haram, a jihadist group fighting to establish an Islamist state in Nigeria, kidnapped hundreds of girls from a public school in the city of Chibok. The kidnapping led to a worldwide hashtag campaign, #BringBackOurGirls. Media celebrities signed up; political leaders, too, such as British Prime Minister David Cameron. American First Lady Michelle Obama famously tweeted a photo from the White House.

Three months have passed. Boko Haram has not released the girls, but the hashtag is no longer trending. The media has moved on to other stories. In fact, Boko Haram appears to miss the attention. This week, the group released a video to remind the world it’s still around.

The video features the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau (left), ridiculing the West’s campaign to free the girls and demanding, instead, that Nigeria’s President, Goodluck Jonathan, release members of Boko Haram currently in prison. “You go around saying ‘Bring Back Our Girls,’” he mocks. “Bring Back Our Army.” For good measure, he repeats gleefully into the camera, “Kill, Kill, Kill, Kill Christians!”

The video is worth watching for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a nice lesson in the limits of social media. Feel-good hashtag campaigns, on their own, accomplish precisely nothing. To refer without irony to “the promise of the hashtag,” as a State Department spokesperson recently did in the context of the Ukraine crisis, is an embarrassment. Groups like Boko Haram will laugh off such trivialities or, indeed, co-opt them for their own purposes. So will other, more sovereign, opponents.

I don’t suggest the West should send commandos to Nigeria to free the girls, even assuming we could find them. Invading countries has a way of backfiring. In fact, we may not be capable of very much in this situation, unfortunately. But one thing’s for sure. Juvenile, self-regarding tweets–the foreign-policy version of selfies–will only make the West seem effete and, well, laughable.

Second, Shekau’s call to “Kill Christians” clarifies something important. As as a result of the Chibok kidnapping, the West sees Boko Haram as anti-women. But that’s a relatively minor part of the story. Boko Haram is not principally anti-women, but anti-Christian. The group has been carrying out atrocities against Christians for years. It’s just that the West has not found the story important. Indeed, Chibok itself is a largely Christian city, and most of the kidnapped schoolgirls are Christians. That’s a major reason why Boko Haram abducted them in the first place.

The media and Western human rights advocates have a hard time seeing Christians as sympathetic victims. Even when they acknowledge that Christians are suffering, they feel they somehow have to apologize for raising the subject. (Nicholas Kristof’s recent column for the New York Times is a good example). This bias prevents clear understanding, though. “Bring Back Our Girls?” How about, “Bring Back Our Christians?”

European Court Decides Church Autonomy Case; Russian Judge Calls Clerical Celibacy a Human Rights Violation

I’m a little late getting to this, but I wanted to say a few words about Fernández Martínez v. Spain, the church autonomy case the European Court of Human Rights decided last month. By a vote of 9-8, the court held that Spain did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights when it declined to renew the contract of a public school teacher who had been offering classes in Catholicism.

Because of the close vote, some commentators have expressed worries about the case’s implication for church autonomy in Europe. I think those worries are overstated. The closeness of the vote turns on the peculiarities of the Spanish public school system, in which state employees offer religious instruction. The dissent of the Russian judge does cause concern, however. Judge Dedov’s opinion suggests a bias against Catholicism unlike anything I can remember in a judicial opinion.

In Spain, public schools offer religious instruction at state expense. The teachers are state employees. But the Spanish government has entered into agreements with four religious communities–Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish, and Muslim–which provide that schools will select instructors in those religions from candidates the communities certify as suitable. With respect to classes in Catholicism, the local Catholic bishop must approve instructors. Fernández Martínez lost his job when the local bishop refused to approve him. The bishop withdrew his approval when Fernández Martínez, a Catholic priest who had decided to marry and raise a family, appeared at a public protest in favor of optional clerical celibacy.

Fernández Martínez argued that the refusal to renew his contract violated his right under Article 8 of the Convention “to respect for his private and family life.” The court disagreed. The interference with the claimant’s right was justified in this case, it held. Spain had acted to protect the important principle of church autonomy, specifically, the right of the Catholic Church to designate which people could offer Catholic instruction in the public schools. Although the instructors were state employees, they were also representatives of the Church. It was not unreasonable for the Church to assert that Fernández Martínez’s conduct affected his credibility as a Catholic representative.

All this seems straightforward. So why was the vote so close? The eight dissenting judges expressed some unfortunate skepticism about what they called “absolute” church autonomy. To my mind, though, the key factor seems to have been that Fernández Martínez was a state employee, paid from public funds. As a result, the dissenters believed, the state had an obligation to him independent of the Church’s decision. It “is not the Bishop’s decision that should be scrutinized,” the dissenters wrote, “but the [state's] reaction to that decision.” For example, the state might have tried to find Fernández Martínez another position that would not involve teaching Catholicism. Instead, the state had simply let him go.

Judge Dmitry Dedov

In short, the closeness of the vote reflects the peculiarities of the Spanish system, in which teachers of Catholicism are state employees, rather than the principle of church autonomy itself. (I recognize that the Spanish system may not be so peculiar in the European context, but that’s a subject for another post.) On the other hand, one of the dissents does raise serious concerns. In a personal dissent, which no other member of the court joined, the Russian judge, Dmitry Dedov, argued that mandatory priestly celibacy was itself a human rights violation the court should not tolerate.

Mandatory celibacy has been a “well-known and serious problem” in Catholicism for centuries, Dedov wrote, citing Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds. It had caused a great deal of grief and led priests to abuse children “in many countries.” One could not justify holding people  to a vow of celibacy, even a voluntary one:

The Convention protects freedom of religion…. But it does not entitle religious organizations, even in the name of autonomy, to persecute their members for exercising fundamental human rights. If the Convention system is intended to combat totalitarianism, then there is no reason to tolerate the sort of totalitarianism that can be seen in the present case.

“I believe,” he concluded, “that optional celibacy is the best way out of this problem and that it could also–I hope–serve as a preventive measure against clerical sex abuses of children in the future.”

I suppose Judge Dedov, who attended a Soviet university in the 1980s, is in a position to know something about totalitarianism. But, really, his dissent is an embarrassment. No one asked Judge Dedov for his views on clerical celibacy. The merit of religious doctrine is not a matter for secular human rights judges to address, and certainly not in a simplistic and gratuitously insulting way. (The Thorn Birds? Really?) And to assert, without offering evidence, that Catholicism’s rules on clerical celibacy have themselves caused the sex abuse crisis–a crisis that has, no doubt, many causes–is not what one expects from a judge.

In a human rights court, litigants from religious communities have a right to think the judges will treat them fairly and, to the extent possible, decide cases without bias. Judges are not there to offer musings on comparative religion. Judge Dedov’s dissent suggests he has a personal problem with the Catholic Church. He should take that problem somewhere else.