Oslo, 2-5 September 2004 - The Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief
How To Follow Up On Madrid – Aims And Challenges
By Abdelfattah Amor, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief
Printed in Teaching for Tolerance and Freedom of Religion or Belief. Report from the preparatory Seminar held in Oslo December 7-9, 2002 (prepared by Lena Larsen and Ingvill T. Plesner, published by the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief)
The value of the Madrid final document – as well as other texts in international law – must be viewed from the will and support by states, NGOs and other experts to follow up on it. Therefore, we must ask ourselves what means we have to follow up on the recommendations in the Madrid final document.
There is an urgent need to look for ways by which school education might foster tolerance and non-discrimination and hence provide a basis for protection of freedom of religion or belief. Both at the Madrid conference and in the aftermath some states have demonstrated support of the aims and recommendations of the conference while others express scepticism or indifference. It seems that several states do not pay enough attention to how preventive strategies can foster respect and protection of human rights.
Especially after the 11th of September 2001, we have observed a growing scepticism and lack of trust in and between different parts of the world, and this might affect the will to work together to secure human right, tolerance and non-discrimination. But at the same time the development after the events of September 11th in different countries makes it more important than ever to join together in this kind of preventive work. The fight against terrorism has some places lead to restrictions on human rights. A greater awareness about human rights in general and freedom of religion or belief in particular hence is of utmost importance. All though the political context does not make it easy to develop a strategy and look for partners in the following up of the Madrid conference, we must therefore remember how important our work is.
In our work to follow up the aims and recommendations of the Madrid final document, there is first of all a need to look for support by the states that participated at the Madrid conference. Especially we must define what are or could be the "locomotive states", –states that are particularly committed to the Madrid aims and hence to the follow-up of the conference recommendations. Only after this first step, we can work to get support also from countries that did not participate in Madrid.
To get a broad support, it is important to focus on the aims of education that all states could and should agree upon. As stated in Madrid, school education should prevent non-discrimination and foster tolerance. Rather than focusing on differences, the education should demonstrate a basis for solidarity and understanding across all boarders of faith and culture. For instance with human rights education we can build a solid basis for freedom of religion or belief. With religious education in school there is always a danger of focusing too much on the particular identities of the pupils and hence on what separates instead of what unites us as human beings. We must avoid the "ghetto" approach.
We should however not look for ways to define too specifically what should be the content of education. Development of material and methods that might be used in education to foster tolerance, non-discrimination and freedom of religion or belief would however be welcomed by most states, I would presume. A follow-up conference, like the one we are now making plans for, should therefore include workshops where didactical questions and the development of teaching materials could be discussed in more depth. We should also ask ourselves what training should be given to the trainer, the teachers, in order to foster the kind of education that foster tolerance and non-discrimination.
To succeed in developing such teaching material and methods, it is important to involve also experts and NGOs committed to the aims and recommendations of the Madrid final document. Here the Oslo Coalition on freedom of religion or belief plays an important role. The Oslo Coalition should be accredited with the ECOSOC as soon as possible to ease the work. Also other NGOs must take part in this work. We must act collectively, e.g. through the NGO committee, the UN Human Rights Commission, with other UN Special Rapporteurs and with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.