26 October 2012UK Intervention in full
Thank you Mr Chair.
The UK fully supports the intervention made by the European Union.
Professor Bielefeldt, we welcome your interim report which sharply brings into focus conversion as an intrinsic part of freedom of religion or belief. The UK firmly believes that in order for there to be true religious freedom individuals must be able to change their religion, be free from being forced to change their religion, be allowed to convert others by non-coercive means and be free to live without any religion if they so choose.
We thank you for bringing attention to the vulnerable situation of converts, who often suffer severe violations of their freedom of religion or belief. We applaud your unambiguous defence of the rights of individuals to communicate freely with others on questions of religion or belief, to reach out across communities and State boundaries, or try to persuade others in a non-coercive manner.
There is a great deal of valuable information contained in your report which we thank you for, from the rights of the child, the gender dimension and the need for States to give a fair hearing to claims from converts for asylum. We also welcome your firm defence of the indivisibility of freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression including the response to hate speech.
We would question however your statement that where an official State religion exists that it must inevitably have adverse effects on religious minorities. Surely the important point is equality and non-discrimination before the law rather than whether the country has an official religion or not?
As you identify in your report, there is a great degree of misunderstanding of conversion leading to both governmental and societal discrimination against converts and against those seeking to non-coercively convert others. You note that stereotypes and prejudices have led to various administrative difficulties and even violence from non-State actors against these individuals.
What would you say is the role of States in challenging these negative perceptions and preventing subsequent violence? What advice would you give to religious leaders seeking to defend conversion equally for individuals seeking to adopt a different religion or an atheistic belief?