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COMBATTING GLOBAL RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE

the implementation of Human Rights Council resolution 16/18

by Marc Limon, Nazila Ghanea and Hilary Power

It is almost impossible to turn on the news today without witnessing scenes of hatred, violence and intolerance perpetrated in the name of religion or belief. The march of ISIL across Syria and Iraq, with associated reports of gross and systematic violations of human rights, may be an extreme example of such hatred, but it comes against a background of heightened religious hostility and discrimination in virtually every part of the world. According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, violence and discrimination against religious groups by governments and rival faiths have reached new heights in all regions except the Americas. This bleak picture is supported by the findings of the latest report on religious freedom by the US State Department, which concluded that 2013 saw ‘the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory,’ with millions of individuals from all faiths ‘forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs’ in ‘almost every corner of the globe.’

In the face of such trends, it is clear that the fight against religious intolerance and discrimination must be a key political priority for the international community, and in particular the UN and its Human Rights Council.

The main UN global policy framework for combatting religious intolerance, stigmatisation, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief is set down in Council resolution 16/18. Resolution 16/18 was adopted, with much fanfare, in March 2011 and hailed by stakeholders from all regions and faiths as a turning point in international efforts to confront religious intolerance. After more than five decades of failure, UN member states had, it was hoped, at last come together to agree a common, consensus-based approach and practical plan of action.

Almost four years on, and against the aforementioned backdrop of heightened religious hostility, UN consensus around the ‘16/18 framework’ is at breaking point. Rather than working together to implement the 16/18 action plan, states have returned to pre-2011 arguments over the nature of the problem, the correct role of the international community, and whether the solution to intolerance lies in strengthening the enjoyment of fundamental human rights or in setting clearer limits thereon.

These divisions have re-emerged, in large part, because of conceptual confusion among policymakers about what implementation of resolution 16/18 means and what it entails. Linked to (and indeed flowing from) this conceptual opacity, states – especially states from the Western Group (WEOG) and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) – argue over whether resolution 16/18 is being effectively implemented or not and, if not, who is to blame.

A new Universal Rights Group policy report aims to help put the 16/18 framework ‘back on track’ by cutting through the political rhetoric to understand the different positions of key actors and how to bridge them, and by providing an impartial assessment of levels of implementation.

Key findings and conclusions in the report include:

* The prevention of discrimination on grounds of, inter alia, race and religion, and the protection of minorities, were two of the four priority human rights issues chosen by member states at time of the establishment of the UN (1946).

* From that time until the early 1960s, the UN’s human rights system addressed racial and religious discrimination/intolerance as joint and interconnected issues. However, in 1962 the UN decided to decouple its consideration of the two discriminations.

* This decision facilitated the rapid adoption of a new UN convention on the elimination of racial discrimination (1965). However, consideration of religious intolerance was shunted to the diplomatic ‘slow lane.’ After long and difficult negotiations, the UN eventually adopted a (soft law) declaration in 1981 – a declaration that, today, is largely forgotten.

* From 1946 to the turn of the century, UN policy to combat religious intolerance was notably ineffective. Yet the international community was at least united around a single approach. That changed in the years after 1999 when deepening OIC concern over Islamaphobia (especially in the context of 9/11), together with a Western shift in emphasis away from combatting religious intolerance and towards promoting freedom of conscience, led to a split in the UN policy architecture – a split that remains with us today.

* Against this unpromising background, in March 2011 a group of four states – Pakistan, Turkey, the UK and the US – tabled a text at the Human Rights Council designed to heal divisions, reconcile the positions of East and West, and lay down a workable plan of action to at last confront and challenge global religious intolerance. That text became resolution 16/18.

* When looking at the implementation of resolution 16/18, expectations of the degree to which it is capable of resulting in policy shifts in UN member states should be tempered by an understanding that the primary political impetus behind resolution 16/18 was international rather than domestic.

* Nevertheless, resolution 16/18, with its in-built action plan and associated implementation mechanism (the Istanbul Process), does provide a useful and, in theory, workable framework for combatting religious intolerance. While it is difficult to identify a direct causal relationship between resolution 16/18 and concrete policy shifts at national level, it is possible to identify a number of domestic improvements in-line with parts of the action plan. A good example is the clear improvement, since 2011, in the speed and sophistication with which political and religious leaders speak-out against acts of intolerance.

* Despite these positive steps, Pew Research Center data shows a significant worsening of levels of religious intolerance in almost every part of the world over the past decade.

* An analysis of the underlying causes of this situation reveals a strong empirical relationship between levels of religious intolerance, levels of freedom of religion and levels of freedom of expression. States that place high restrictions on freedom of religion also tend to place high restrictions on freedom of expression, and in states where both these core freedoms are restricted, incidences of religious intolerance tend, on average, to be far higher.

* However, URG’s analysis also shows that promoting respect for freedom of religion and freedom of expression is not enough on its own. If states are to strike a blow against intolerance, they must also take a range of supplementary (and complementary) steps to strengthen policy (in line with resolution 16/18).

Policy Recommendations
The report ends by proposing a set of recommendations designed to ‘re-energise’ the 16/18 process and thereby strengthen the international community’s ability to effectively respond to rising intolerance and discrimination. Recommendations include:

* States – especially EU and OIC states – should cooperate to dismantle the artificial divide that currently separates the UN’s work on promoting respect for freedom of religion from its work on combatting religious intolerance. In the medium- to long-term, this would mean agreeing on a single, coherent policy covering the mutually interdependent issues of freedom of religion, religious discrimination and religious intolerance;

* Linked with this point, states should avoid a return to the initiative on ‘defamation of religions,’ which achieved little beyond the polarisation of East and West. They should also avoid establishing new instruments or mechanisms on religious discrimination or intolerance in the absence of a solid evidential base showing that such measures would help;

* Because arguments over implementation are central to the current difficulties faced by the 16/18 process, it would be useful for relevant Council mechanisms, especially the Special Procedures, to undertake an independent and impartial analysis of steps taken by states, religious leaders and civil society, together with related best practice;

* Better use can and should be made of the UPR process and Treaty Body dialogues to promote implementation of the 16/18 action plan and to report on progress;

* States should ‘re-energise’ the Istanbul Process by agreeing in advance on a schedule of future meetings – a series that would allow all parts of the 16/18 action plan to be addressed; and

* The format of Istanbul Process meetings should be reformed, so that for each meeting a geographically balanced group of states, religious community representatives and civil society leaders are invited to present information about their national experiences, challenges faced and future plans.

 

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Islam and feminism: A battle of viewpoints

This article was posted on March 25, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

By Morgan Meaker

islamandfeminism

This month, British charity Maslaha launched the website “Islam and Feminism”– a new project which aims to unite the two belief systems. “Muslim women have the same core concerns as white, secular, British women: the workplace, discrimination [and] childcare” says the charity’s Latifa Akay, yet they have long been excluded from the feminist debate. This is what the project wants to change by promoting the idea that women of all religions can push for gender equality.

Inna Shevchenko, leader of topless protest group Femen, strongly disagrees. “I will never have a discussion about Muslim feminism because it doesn’t exist. It cannot exist. It’s oxymoronic.” Femen’s intolerance has seen them labelled as “white colonials” and “cultural imperialists” but the group’s real fault is the way it forces women into a mould, leaving no space for individualism.

In 2012, Femen protested against the International Olympic Committee’s collaboration with Islamist regimes. As a demonstrator was led away by police, she screamed “I fight for women who are not free. We are not free”. She had elected herself as spokesperson for women around the globe but the way she spoke for Muslims prompted backlash.

It seemed that many Muslim women did not want to be “liberated” by semi-nude activists. They felt Femen were patronizing and had done little research into the culture of Islam. The Facebook page “Muslim Women Against Femen” was founded and a series of selfies, emblazoned with slogans appeared – “hijab is my right”, “nudity does not liberate me” and “I do not need saving”. A feeling of resentment was prominent; these women did not want western ideals imposed on their faith.

Artist Sarah Maple considers this idea in her current exhibition, “God is a feminist”. Her work turns the tables on common perceptions of Muslim women as trapped and victimized. “In the West there is an obsession with being sexually attractive in a very limited and narrow way. I was looking at how this may be seen as a form of oppression and that there may be a freedom in covering up”.

Feminism should never be rooted in the idea of whitewashing society. Surely nothing is more backward than the mind-set; “to be free, you must look like me, think like me and live like me”. Equality is about giving all genders absolute choice, no matter their religion.

Recently it has become a trend for far right groups to hijack feminist rhetoric – alienating Muslims from feminist dialogue. During an anti-Islam rally in Munich, The Freedom Party’s Michael Stürzenberger furiously revealed to the crowd that Sharia instructs men to hit women. “We don’t want that in Bavaria!” he bellowed. Yet he is not concerned with women’s rights, instead he channels his efforts into spreading Islamophobia. He’s already lead over 100 anti-Islam demonstrations.

British groups like the English Defence League and the British National Party also rush to condemn Islam’s lack of feminist values. But their opinions in this area seem entirely self-serving, especially when they are associated with candidates like the BNP’s Nick Eriksen.

Feminism must separate itself from inflammatory politics. Instead, its focus should be on educating women and empowering them to make their own choices – making sure no one is trapped in any lifestyle. However freedom and tolerance should always be on the same side.

Feminism should mean that women can work in any industry, receive the same pay as their male colleagues and demand respect from their husbands, whether they wear the hijab or not. Of course Muslims can be feminist and their views should be welcomed into the debate.

 

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2014 in Women Rights and Gender

 

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LAWYERS ALERT SUES THE FCT MINISTER, AND THE POLICE OVER CONTINOUS ARREST OF WOMEN AT NIGHTS IN ABUJA

LAWYERS ALERT SUES THE FCT MINISTER, AND THE POLICE OVER CONTINOUS ARREST OF WOMEN AT NIGHTS IN ABUJA

 

Lately the Nigeria Police and the Authorities in Abuja the Federal Capital territory have resorted to the practice of arresting women seen outside of their homes at night and prosecuting them on the obsolete law of wandering (read prostitution). The prosecution under the law of wandering, which itself is obsolete, because no law prohibits sex workers. The intention is however to intimidate perceived sex workers, but in the process, hundreds of women are affected and traumatized by arbitrary and dragnet arrests.

Commercial sex even though very high in major cities like Lagos and Abuja is highly frowned at by the Authorities.

Seeking to gain political mileage and also wanting to appear to fight crimes, the Politicians and the Police have lately resorted to intense harassment of commercial sex workers in Abuja. The practice is for the Police officers to swoop on them at nights and arrests dozens. A lot of women who are on other ventures have suffered a lot from this, as the mere appearance of a woman without a male escort at night can lead to arrest without questions. Several women have suffered this indignation. A female Banker was recently arrested when she parked her car and strolled across the street for Toiletries. It took the intervention of her employers next day for her to regain freedom.

As earlier espoused because the Police have no law to charge these women, they are charged under the obsolete law of wandering at night. Women are now being detained and imprisoned on this account. Curiously men “wandering” at night are not arrested.

Women arrested are sometimes raped by the arresting officers and let to go home. Their only offence, at least by the constitution of Nigeria is that they are females who dare to come out at night. Prostitution is stritu sensu not an offence in Nigeria.

The practice of arrest, detention and imprisonment of women on this account is now gaining popularity as women are increasingly coming under some sort of siege in cities like Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Ibadan. Women rights to freedom and liberty is now gradually being eroded and marginalized on account of suspicion of sex hawking. Recently an Abuja court sentenced to jail several women on this account. Daily Trust of Friday, June 3, 2011 page 63, www.dailytrust.com.

As earlier stated, these actions are as illegal as they contravene the constitution. The need is now urgent to legally challenge the constitutionality or otherwise of these actions to put an end to it.

The Police normally charge these women in the lower courts and not the High Courts where their actions cannot be legally closely scrutinized. The lower courts are courts of summary trials.

Lawyers Alert has now approached the Abuja High Court to have the court make a declaration that this is constitutionally illegal.  Thousands of women will be the beneficiaries and the court decision will no doubt be an Authority or Locus Classicus on women rights in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. A favorable decision of Court will be a reference for lower courts and also the police to desist forthwith from these acts.

This proposed Action is urgent, because women are continually been sent to prison on almost weekly basis. Freedom and liberty is by far one of the most precious rights and the continuous illegal denial and abuse of this makes this matter very urgent in being addressed. Left to the authorities and time to rectify this situation might take years alongside the spillover effect in its spread across other regions in Nigeria.

 

Law and Advocacy are two key strategies presently being put to use by Lawyers Alert in advancing women rights in several spheres be it political, economic or social.

The present case fits into Lawyers Alert broader strategy in terms of advancing the rights of women to move freely and not be subject to any restraint, abuse or harassment so long as they are within the laws of the land.

Find below our Argument in Abuja High Court

IN THE HIGH COURT OF THE FEDERAL CAPITAL TERRITORY

HOLDEN IN ABUJA

SUIT NO ……………………………          

 

IN THE MATTER OF THE APPLICATION FOR ENFORCEMENT OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS OF WOMEN RIGHTS OF MOVEMENT IN THE FEDERAL CAPITAL TERRITORY

IN THE MATTER OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS (ENFORCEMENT PROCEDURE) RULES 2009

 

BETWEEN:

LAWYERS ALERT ASSOCIATION

 

AND

 

1        HON. MINISTER OF THE FEDERAL CAPITAL TERRITORY

2        COMMISSIONER OF POLICE, FEDERAL CAPITAL TERRITORY

3        INSPECTOR GENERAL OF POLICE

4        NIGERIA POLICE FORCE

5        ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA

ORIGINATING SUMMONS TAKEN OUT PURSUANT TO SECTIONS 35, 41 AND 42 OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION AND ORDER 2 OF THE FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS (ENFORCEMENT PROCEDURE) RULES 2009 AND ARTICLES 2 AND 19 OF THE AFRICAN CHARTER OF HUMAN AND PEOPLE’S RIGHTS

PLAINTIFFS WRITTEN ADDRESS/ARGUMENT IN SUPORT OF ORIGINATING SUMMONS

FACTS

Following the pronouncement of the 1st Defendant to rid Abuja of prostitutes, the 2nd and 3rd Defendants, through members of the Nigeria Police Force commenced the mass arrests and harassment of women seen at nights in Abuja. The sole reason for these arrests is that these women are seen at night as the arrests do not occur in the afternoons.

Men are however not arrested.  The practice has continued throwing fear into women of going out at nights for fear of arrest and molestation by the police.

ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION

Whether the incessant harassment, intimidation, and arrest of women in Abuja at nights on suspicion of prostitution is  not only unconstitutional but also  a violation of women’s human rights.

ARGUMENT

Every Citizen is guaranteed the right of movement without restrictions at ALL times of the day by the Constitution of the Federal Republic. This is especially stated in 35(1) of the Constitution  which expressly provides thus

“Every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure permitted by law.”

The exceptions as provided by the Constitution for the denial of these rights are limited to instances of compliance with a sentence of a court, failure to comply with order of Court, or at other instances which certainly do not extend to arrest of women to rid a town of prostitution or arrest of women when seen at nights.

Furthermore, Section 41 (1) of Constitution provides that:

“Every Citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereto or exit therefrom.” Emphasis provided.

It is submitted that movement here is closely tied to right of liberty as women can constitutionally move freely in Nigeria whether in the daytime or nighttime. Nothing differentiates the day and night for a particular sect of citizens to be targeted at nights for arrest on being sighted. This is discriminatory and violates Section 42(1) of the Constitution which provides

“A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person –

(a)   Be subjected either expressly by, or in the application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government , to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of religion, sex, religious or political opinions are not made subject, or

The above section clearly prohibits any restriction or enjoyment of any rights ordinarily accorded to citizens like liberty, movement etc in the implementation of any law, executive or administrative act based on grounds like sex .i.e. gender.

For women in Abuja to be subjected to arrest, purely on the ground of their sex at nights in Abuja we submit is discriminatory as men can and do move about without any molestation or  harassment. We implore the court to note that these restrictions are pursuant to the executive orders of the 1st Defendant.

The Courts have been enjoined by the Preamble of the Fundamental Rights( Enforcement Procedure) Rules , 2009   under 3 as Follows:

“3.The overriding objectives of these rules as follows:

(a)   The constitution, especially Chapter IV, as well as the African charter, shall be expansively and purposely interpreted and applied, with a view to advancing and realizing the rights and freedoms contained in them and affording the protection intended by them.”

We therefore implore the Court to expansively interpret the above sections of the law in advancing the rights of women in Nigeria and protect women from abuses and discrimination owing solely to the fact that they are women.

The relevant sections of the constitution as quoted finds amplification in Articles 2 and 19 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights which adumbrates the sanctity of  equality and equal treatment without discrimination where it is stated thereof:

Article 2

“Every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed in the present Charter without discrimination of any kind such as race, ethnic group, colour, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or other status”

Article 19

“All peoples shall be equal; they shall enjoy the same respect and shall have the same rights. Nothing shall justify the domination of a people by another”

The rights and freedoms as provided for in the African Charter falls on same grounds with the relevant ones as guaranteed by the Constitution, only in this instance its amplified.

It is clearly therefore without any basis for the directive of the 1st Defendant , a male, to subject women to domination by men, where men can conduct their businesses and other chores at nights without fear of molestation, but women cannot, owing to fears of arrests and intimidation by Agents of the 2nd and 3rd Defendants.

For women to be indiscriminately harassed and arrested in Abuja because they are seen exercising their rights of movement is therefore a breach of the Constitution and the African Charter.

We concede the Constitution does not make these rights absolute, but it expressly provides the instances and circumstances where these rights can be restricted as quoted under the exceptions under Section 35 of the constitution.

Where therefore the Defendants are contravening these rights outside these accepted instances it is submitted this amounts to violation of women rights in Abuja.

The Defendants may make the arguments that the women arrested at the directives of the 1st Defendant are premised on his war against prostitution in Abuja. However nowhere are women going out or seen at night is interpreted as prostitution. Prostitution involves very direct act of soliciting, in this instance all that is required for an arrest is for the women to be seen at nights.

It is therefore submitted that the actions of the Defendants is simpliciter  to harass women by denying them freedom of movement, liberty and discriminatory solely on ground that they are women  thereby occasioning inequality before the law and subjecting women to men.

CONCLUSION

Over the years women have suffered several cultural and social violation and inequality which has hampered the development of our women, sisters and mothers in especially Africa. We urge the court to send a very clear signal that men in Authority should not further reason l to institutionalize this by the passage of arbitrary orders and laws that will continue this practice.

We urge the court be swayed by the preamble of the Fundamental Rights( Enforcement Procedure) Rules , 2009   which enjoins the courts to expansively and purposely interpret and apply Chapter IV of the Constitution with a view to advancing and realizing the rights and freedoms contained in them and affording the protection intended by them.

Women need this protection and they should be treated in like and equal manner as their male counterparts for after all we are all Human beings.

Dated  this 18th day of  June 2012

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2012 in Women Rights and Gender

 

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