January 11, 2014

​Report: 8 Countries on UN Human Rights Council Restrict Religious Freedom

 ©2013 Religion News Service

Eight of the 47 countries that hold seats on the
United Nations Human Rights Council imprisoned people in 2013 under laws that
restrict religious freedom, according to a new report from Human Rights Without
Frontiers International, a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Belgium.

The eight UNHRC member states on the group’s
second annual World Freedom of Religion or Belief Prisoners List, released December
30, are Morocco, China and Saudi Arabia (whose new three-year terms began
January 1, 2014), and current members India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Libya, and
South Korea.

Hundreds of believers and atheists were
imprisoned in these and 16 other countries for exercising religious freedom or
freedom of expression rights related to religious issues, according to the
report. These rights include the freedom to change religions, share beliefs,
object to military service on conscientious grounds, worship, assemble and
associate freely. Violations related to religious defamation and blasphemy are
also included in the report.

The report designates China, Eritrea, Iran, North
Korea, and South Korea as countries of particular concern for the highest
number of religious freedom prisoners. The U.S. State Department’s latest
International Religious Freedom Report includes Saudi Arabia on its list of
worst offenders.

“Human Rights Without Frontiers is alarmed by the
evolution of the UN Human Rights Council which accepts as members an increasing
number of countries perpetrating egregious violations of human rights and, in
particular, of religious freedom,” the group said in a statement.

The UNHRC replaced the U.N. Commission on Human
Rights in 2006, in part “to redress (the Commission’s) shortcoming,” which
included granting membership to countries with poor human rights records. The
resolution establishing the revamped UNHRC declares that member states “shall
uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”

But that’s not happening, said Willy Fautre,
director of Human Rights Without Frontiers.

“Our best wish for the New Year is that these and
the other member states of the Human Rights Council may give the good example to
other nations of the world by releasing such prisoners of conscience and not
depriving any other believer or atheist of their freedom in 2014,” he said in a