The OSCE Produces Guidance On Freedom Of Religion Or Belief And Security – Forbes

In September 2019, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (the OSCE/ODIHR) published a new report Freedom of Religion or Belief and Security: Policy Guidance as a response to the calls for a balance between these values or [suggestions] that at least some aspects of this freedom must be sacrificed to achieve security.The OSCE is the world's largest regional security-oriented intergovernmental organization constituting of 57 member countries. Its mandate includes the promotion of human rights and working to promote stability, peace and democracy for more than a billion people.

The OSCE flag is seen in Hofburg Palace in Vienna. (Photo credit: Omar Marques/ SOPA Images/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The report discusses the issues identified within the 57 participating states, including registration and de-registration of religious or belief communities and security, extremist speech and literature and security, screening, monitoring and searches in places of worship and meeting places and security, restrictions on conversion and limitations on religious or belief community activities that have a foreign connection.

The report takes a strong stance against the reliance on the vague concept of extremism. The report emphasizes that extremism is an imprecise term without a generally accepted definition, which leaves it open to overly broad and vague interpretations and opens the door to arbitrary application of the law. It further adds that:

Extremism is often conflated with violence, even though there is no empirical evidence to suggest a causal link or progression from extremist thinking to violent acts or that extremist thinking implies an intent to engage in violent behavior that would warrant state intervention. The phenomenon of violent extremism must, therefore, be clearly distinguished from notions of extremism. Holding extreme views does not, in itself, constitute a security threat.

Nonetheless, as it stands, the concept of extremism is being used in more and more countries. For example, in Russia, thelaw criminalizes very vaguely defined extremist activities and this has resulted in over 200 Jehovah's Witnesses being arrested and prosecuted. In other countries like the U.K., the Government has introduced a policy of countering extremism that is vague and unhelpful. Only a few years after introducing the strategy, it established a special Commission to Counter Extremism to strengthen its approach to counter-extremism (or consider in the first place whether this approach was ever justified).

The report further makes important comments on the issue of religious literature and any interpretations of such literature that justices the use of violence. The report stresses that harm and violence are always the result of human agency. Indeed, the U.N. Special RapporteurHeiner Bielefeldtmade this point in his 2014 report stating that:

perpetrators of violent crimes are always human beings, not religions as such. It is human beings individuals, groups, community leaders, State representatives, non-state actors and others who invoke religion or specific religious tenets for the purposes of legitimizing, stoking, spreading or escalating violence. In other words, the relationship between religion and violence can never be an immediate one; it always presupposes human agency, that is, individuals or groups who actively bring about that connection or who challenge that connection.

We need to ensure that the perpetrators take responsibility for their actions and do not hide behind religious writings.Rather than banning such literature, the report explains that:

Developing and sharing interpretations that place these violent narratives and imagery in their historical contexts, promoting critical thinking and providing a reading that upholds human dignity and humanrights are much more effective and much more respectful of freedom ofexpression and freedom of religion or belief than banning or censoring religious texts or limiting their circulation.

In the report, the OSCE sets out its comprehensive approach to security which does not portray freedom of religion or belief and security as competing values, but considers them to be complementary, interdependent and mutually reinforcing objectives that can and must be advanced together. The new report provides guiding principles, practical guidance and recommendations on how to address thechallengesflowing from the intersection of freedom of religion or belief and security.

The report identifies seven guiding principles that are aimed at formulation and implementation of a range of measures, policies and laws to ensure both freedom of religion or belief and security.Among others, the report proposes specific educational measures that foster respect for religious or belief diversity, programs that raise awareness, that inform wider society about religious or belief communities, their human rights and the significance of diversity, interfaith and inter-religious dialogue and partnerships, policies that promote respect for and build upon existing and emerging religious or belief diversity, and legal and policy changes that correctly identity the international standards on freedom of religion or belief.

The report is a significant and important contribution to the field of freedom of religion or belief and security and should be taken seriously by states to guide their response to security threats while protecting the rights to freedom of religion or belief for all.

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The OSCE Produces Guidance On Freedom Of Religion Or Belief And Security - Forbes

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