US statement at OSCE meeting: Discrimination of minority religious groups


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Subject: US statement at OSCE meeting: Discrimination of minority religious groups

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Original sender: Greek Helsinki Monitor <helsinki@compulink.gr>

US statement at OSCE meeting: Religious Intolerance and
Discrimination


HUMAN RIGHTS WITHOUT FRONTIERS
RUE DE LA PRESSE 5
B-1000  BRUSSELS
__________________________________________________________
 
PRESS AND INFORMATION SERVICE
 
Section "Religious Intolerance and Discrimination"
 
October 29, 1998
__________________________________________________________
 
OSCE
IMPLEMENTING MEETING IN WARSAW
STATEMENT OF THE U.S. DELEGATION ON FREEDOM OF THOUGHT, CONSCIENCE,
RELIGION OR BELIEF 
BY Dr LEILA AL-MARAYATI
 
HRWF (29.10.98) - At previous OSCE meetings, the U.S. Delegation has
applauded the expansion of religious liberty in this historic decade.
At the same time, we want to address concerns we have regarding the
increasing intolerance toward religious and belief groups in many OSCE
participating States. The U.S. Delegation has three areas of concern:
 
1) laws that hinder religious practice and discriminate among
religious groups;
2) governmental actions that perpetuate discrimination against
minority religious groups and
3) increasing manifestations of intolerance toward Muslims and other
religious  minorities.
 
First, Laws That Hinder Religious Practice and Discriminate Among
Religious Groups
 
During the past year, several participating States have enacted
legislation that hinders the religious activities of minority
religious communities. Probably the most serious development was in
Uzbekistan. In Uzbekistan, a new law was passed in May 1998, which,
among other restrictions, requires 100 Uzbek citizens to sign a
religious community's application for registration and criminalizes
any unregistered religious activities.
 
Less serious, but of very significant concern, are the new laws on
religious associations of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
and of Russia. In 1997, both Macedonia and Russia passed laws
restricting the rights of "unrecognized" religious groups by
instituting numerical requirements and, in the case of Russia, the law
now requires proof of 15 years of existence as a prerequisite for
registration. Both Turkey and Greece for years have had laws and
constitutional provisions restricting the religious liberty of
minority communities in the region. The enactment of the new laws
noted above, and the progression toward more state control of minority
religions, reveals a disturbing trend of intolerance against minority
faiths.
 
The United States also takes note that even among states with a
longstanding tradition of support for human rights and fundamental
freedoms, there have been unfortunate developments legalizing
discrimination among religious groups. For example, the Austrian
Parliament passed a law in December 1997, which futher
institutionalizes a system that grants several important privileges to
certain (favored) religious groups that it denies to other religious
groups.
 
Second, Governmental Actions that Perpetuate Discrimination Against
Minority Religious Groups
 
Several  western European parliaments, most notably France, Belgium
and Germany, have created commissions to investigate and report on the
activities of minority religious groups. Some of these commissions
have published lists of minority religions and belief groups. These
lists, directly or indirectly, often lead the public to believe that
the religions on the list are dangerous or otherwise suspect. These
parliamentary investigations have sometimes had a chilling effect on
religious liberty and have sometimes fueled a public resentment
against groups being investigated or labeled "dangerous" in government
reports. We note that the Government of France, only this month,
created a new "Interministerial Mission to Battle Against Sects"
("Mission interministérielle de lutte contre les sectes"). The very
name of this mission suggests confrontation with religious minorities
rather than tolerance. Governments have also established or are
considering establishing so-called information centers, particularly
in Austria, France, and Belgium, to disseminate information on these
groups. By their very existence, these information centers instill in
the public the sense that the government is combating "dangerous"
groups through telephone hotlines and official literature. These
information centers call into question the commitments that these
countries have made as participating States of the OSCE to "foster a
climate of mutual tolerance and respect" and excessively entangle the
government in the public discussion on religious beliefs.
 
Third, Religious Liberty of Muslims and Other Minorities in the OSCE
Participating States
 
The status of both immigrant and indigenous Muslim minorities and
majorities in the OSCE participating States is often precarious.
Religious persecution and intolerance of Muslims is closely linked to
racial and ethnic hatred, xenophobia, social malaise, and
international political conflicts. Fear of potential violence or
terrorism spawned by "Islamic" extremism is often used as a pretext to
justify violations of the human rights of Muslims who are practicing
their  faith. This has been seen most recently in the violent
repression of Muslims in Uzbekistan. There were arrests of Muslim
activists in France before the World Cup and more recently in Britain.
A combination of ethnicity and religion underlie human rights
violations against Muslim populations in Europe, seen most recently,
the Kosovar Albanians have suffered mass killings, arbitrary
detention, rape, destruction of property, and forced migration at the
hands of Belgrade.
 
Elsewhere, ethnic minorities and immigrants who are Muslim, such as
North Africans in France and Turks in Germany, are disproportionately
subjected to violent crimes that often are perpetrated by racists and
sometimes by the police. Indo-Paksitanis have occasionally been the
subject of racist attacks in the United Kingdom. Indeed, even in the
United States Muslims experience societal discrimination and
stereotyping.
 
Of concern are infringements on religious education in Turkey and
Uzbekistan. There also is economic and political discrimination in
Greece, Bulgaria, Germany, Croatia, Serbia and Turkey, which is
exemplified by the loss of promotional opportunities, confinement to
low-paying jobs, inadequate political representation, and prevention
from advancement in the military. Finally, Muslim women and girls in
countries such as Turkey, Uzbekistan and France often suffer
discrimination for wearing head scarves in  compliance with their
faith.
 
The US Delegation
 
- Calls on the Government of Uzbekistan, Russia and Macedonia, to
repeal or amend significantly their laws on religious  associations to
comply with OSCE commitments;
 
- Calls on the Governments of Turkey and Greece to ensure that their
laws and practices conform with OSCE principles of freedom of belief,
association and expression;
 
- Calls on the Government of Austria to recognize the potential that
its law has for encouraging other states to enact prejudicial
legislation and urges the Government to amend its current law;
 
- Calls on the Government of Austria, Belgium, France and Germany to
foster a climate of tolerance and respect toward minority religion or
belief groups and insure through law and governmental practice that
religious freedoms for  minorities are protected;
 
- Calls on all OSCE participating States to re-examine their laws,
governmental practices, and societal trends  that discriminate against
Muslims and other religious minorities.
 
_____________________________________
 
Greek Helsinki Monitor &
Minority Rights Group - Greece
P.O. Box 51393
GR-14510 Kifisia
Greece
Tel. +30-1-620.01.20
Fax +30-1-807.57.67
e-mail: office@greekhelsinki.gr
http://www.greekhelsinki.gr
_____________________________________

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