Papers and resource materials for the global meeting on



Oslo, 2-5 September 2004 - The Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief

Reflections On The Madrid Conference

By Dr. Rosa María Martínez De Codes (Ministry of Justice/Universidad Complutense, Spain)

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 International Consultative Conference on School Education with regard to Freedom of Religion and Belief, Tolerance and Non-discrimination was held in Madrid from 23rd to 25th November.

From the very outset, Spain backed the plan to hold this Conference, an initiative of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. This initiative coincided with the commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Removal of all forms of discrimination based on religion or belief. Taking our own experience and democratic development as a basis, Spain wished once again to contribute its efforts to creating a setting for fostering joint reflection and for the definition of consensus-based views on a matter of enormous transcendence for the future of our societies and the international community as a whole.

The long process of preparation leading up to the Conference offered an opportunity to lay the foundations of a novel event, since for the first time we experienced the fruits of collaboration between a Member State of the United Nations and one of the organisation’s Special Rapporteurs; broad-based involvement which, along with the traditional presence of the UN member states’ official delegations, was also to include the figureheads of the system’s human rights defense mechanisms; leaders of many different religious confessions; representatives of the most active NGOs in the field; academics, and experts of the most diverse provenance in the key areas. Finally, this ambitious objective materialized in the form of the draft document which was presented to the Conference for its consideration, after being submitted to successive reviews by the Organizing Committee.

The Madrid Conference was a unique opportunity to underline common points of view, in spite of the particular complexity of the current international setting. The recent memory of the difficult commitment with which the World Conference against Racism, Xenophobia and associated Intolerance had concluded in Durban, and on quite another level, the terrible terrorist attack of September 11th, highlighted the transcendence of the purpose which inspired the meeting, at the same time as reinforcing the challenge to reach a consensus-based result which would include everyone.

In the open and constructive mood required by the Conference, all its participants contributed to making a success out of common effort, which materialized into the approval of the Madrid Document by common consensus. Due to the authority given it through unanimous backing, this document has now become an unavoidable reference in the field of religious freedom in school education.

The work, Religious Freedom in School Education, published by the Spanish Ministry of Justice and which I am honored to present today, compiles the documents and texts, in the conference’s official languages, which served as preparatory work, as well as many of the presentations of the participating states, the mechanisms of the United Nations, Institutes of Human Rights, international and regional organizations, religious confessions, NGOs and experts. Also included here are the different draft phases of the final document, as well as an appendix, with a selection of the provisions and instrument headings which appear quoted in the Document of Madrid.

General awareness and dissemination of this collection of texts will assist a general overview of all the contributions made by Member States and other institutions who took part in the Conference; concerning questions relating to freedom of religion and belief, tolerance and non-discrimination in school education, as well as the road still left to be traveled.

A reading of the text and presentations reveals consensus on a number of key issues:

1.      The recognition that freedom of religion and belief is a universal human right and a fundamental freedom recognized in international instruments in all democratic, legal orders and in the constitutions of countries with widely varying cultures.

2.      The recognition of the fact that proclaiming a principle does not alone guarantee its continuing force; apart from enforcing laws, a huge collective effort is required in order that these principles may be actively exercised in our societies.

3.      The recognition of the fact that education is a key instrument for altering the very roots of behavior which excludes others.

4.      The recognition that values are not inherited, rather they are learned, and that school is the setting par excellence where we may be taught to get to know each other and recognize each other.

5.      Schools, as a medium, must transmit to their pupils the conviction that the similarities between human beings are greater than the differences resulting from race, nationality, culture, gender or religion.

6.      Tolerance is not a passive value, rather it is the active acceptance of the plurality of cultures, beliefs and convictions.

7.      The objective of school education is to train thinking individuals who will be knowledgeable of their roots but also capable of respecting the pluralism of the cultures, beliefs, spiritual values and religions of others.

8.      The possibilities education has, in building a more egalitarian and less conflictive world require political, economic and financial decision-making on the part of the Member States, plus the effort of all those who are conscious of the importance of education.

It is vital that we should underline the importance of these central ideas, since they lie at very basis of the 19 points of agreement in the Document of Madrid. I would like to underline that six of the agreements reached are specific recommendations to the Member States on the following:

Section 4. The promotion of education polices directed at strengthening the protection of human rights, the eradication of prejudices and concepts which are incompatible with freedom of religion or beliefs, as well as guaranteeing respect for and acceptance of pluralism and diversity in the sphere of religion or convictions.

Section 5. The adoption of measures which guarantee equal rights to women and men in the sphere of education and freedom of religion or conviction, in particular safeguarding the right of young girls to education.

Section 6. The adoption of measures against manifestations of hatred, racism or xenophobia in school curricula, text books, teaching methods or through the media.

Section 8. Encouragement in both school education and extra-curricular activities of the principles of non-discrimination and tolerance.

Section 13. The promotion of international cultural exchanges in the area of education, through agreements related to the defense of religious freedom, belief and respect for human rights.

Section 16. The adoption of measures against stereotypes based on religion or convictions, ethnic group, race, nationality, or culture.

Along with these six recommendations, exclusively directed at the Member States, in another five sections (10, 11, 12, 15 and 18) the document urges Member States as well as other competent institutions and bodies, organizations and NGOs to:

·  Improve training resources for teaching staff in order to meet the objectives stated.

·  To facilitate dissemination, translation and exchange of educational resources and materials on freedom of religion or beliefs.

·  To study, use and publicize good practices which attribute particular importance to tolerance and non-discrimination.

·  To take full advantage of the media and other instruments for individual and mutual education.

·  To make full use of relevant cultural activities of all types in order to promote the document’s objectives.

Amongst the 11 recommendations and points of encouragement to the Member States, competent institutions, organizations and NGOs, there is one point (11. B) which particularly stands out. This considers cooperation between all parties, jointly with the media, in order to combat the spread of stereotypes of intolerance and discrimination against religions or beliefs in the media and on Internet sites.

The question of cooperation between the responsible bodies in each country, and on occasions with international bodies, in my view requires multi-faceted and diverse strategies at local, regional and national level. The aims of the Madrid Conference should therefore be tackled from many different perspectives.

The UN Member States find themselves at different phases of development in terms of their legislation, legal administration, economy and education. Favoring an international education strategy to fight intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief should not mean following a monopolistic human rights curriculum. Each country may, therefore, favor a different diagnosis and response.

Moreover, the imposition by government education authorities of a state-funded human rights curriculum would not benefit from the task that religious education organizations have performed admirably for years.

In developing countries, school is seen as a privileged setting for running civic education programs. The possibility of running educational events and programs often arises from cooperation between governments and religious groups. Thus, the design of education polices which help to promote tolerance and prevent discrimination in affairs related to religion or belief requires a joint effort between all the parties involved, at both local and national level.

In addition, in Member States where multiple ethnic groups and religions coexist, major importance is attributed to the adoption of legislation which will reinforce freedom of religion and belief, and which will facilitate dialogue between civic authorities and religious groups in the search for educational formulas which may transmit positive values. It is consequently of vital importance to learn how governments, NGOs and religious associations interact with the religion or conviction in each community.

Nevertheless, there is a significant lack of interaction between networks of experts, on the one hand, and networks of educators on the other, over issues relating to freedom of religion and belief. The Member States must therefore implement training programs for teaching staff which incorporate the use of religion and beliefs to underline values of tolerance, respect for "others", and for freedom of religion and belief world-wide.

Regional cooperation appears in few cases to be commented on as an instrument for transmitting values and education programs. In the regional setting and amongst the countries belonging to the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) there is clear interest in promoting dialogue between civilizations which, inter alia, would seek to promote inter-religious and inter-cultural understanding and tolerance. It is worth mentioning the OSCE projects in the Balkan and Caucasus region on the role of education in disseminating religious tolerance.

To conclude, I would like to point out that the Member States themselves are responsible for human rights violations, however inequality and material need are often the breeding ground for religious intolerance and discrimination. The result is violence, war and ethnic and/or religious conflicts. Confessions and beliefs are transnational and have a great potential for achieving peace and promoting attitudes of respect and understanding of others. NGOs, organizations involved, and academic institutions are ready to bridge the gap in the process of building education strategies, in order to prevent intolerance and foster the aims shared by the Conference’s participants.

What is needed now is a joint effort by the different parties, in order to advance in achieving the objectives before us. It is up to the participants of the Conference to be worthy of their results, translating the provisions agreed in Madrid into legislation and social practice in all the countries.