The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and United Kingdom Law

By David Harris; Sarah Joseph | Go to book overview

11
Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Religion

PETER CUMPER


THE THREE FREEDOMS

In International Law

The struggle for religious liberty in the international arena can be traced back to the battles of the sixteenth century,1 and possibly even to the Roman Empire.2 However it was not until the twentieth century that religious liberty finally attained positive recognition in international human rights instruments. Today, in addition to Article 18 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), freedom of religion is guaranteed in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (UDHR), Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), Article 12 of the American Convention on Human Rights 1969 (ACHR), Principle VII of the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe 1975, Article 8 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights 1981, and Article 14 of the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Despite this impressive list of guarantees, the international struggle to secure freedom of religion has been an uphill one. The primitive instinct to persecute those with different beliefs is still a characteristic of the human race. It has been suggested that during the 1980s there were twenty-five regional or civil wars where religion or belief was an important element in the dispute.3 With the revival of religious fundamentalism4 and nationalism in many parts of the world, it seems likely that this figure will rise by the year 2000. Certainly the future omens are not good. In 1986, the UN Commission on Human Rights assigned a Special Rapporteur, Angelo d'Almeida Ribeiro, to examine incidents of religious intolerance and discrimination. His report makes grim reading. It referred to the 'nearly

____________________
1
See Bainton, R., "'The Struggle for Religious Liberty'" ( 1941) 10 Church Hist. 95.
2
Seighart, P., The International Law of Human Rights ( Oxford, 1983), 324.
3
Van T. Boven, "'Advances and Obstacles in Building Understanding and Respect Between People of Diverse Religions and Beliefs'", ( 1991) 13 HRQ442.
4
See "'The Political Revival of Religion: Fundamentalism and Others'" ( 1990) 61 Pol. Quart. 123.

-355-

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