The OSCE high-level conference took place in Rome on 22 October and was an opportunity to discuss good practices related to addressing racism, xenophobia, gender, anti-Semitism and intolerance against Muslims, Christians and members of other religions, as well as challenges related to discriminatory practices, which continue to be a concern across the OSCE region.
Tena Šimonović Einwalter, Equinet Chair, represented the Network on panel discussing “”Intolerance and discrimination, with a focus on discrimination based on religion or belief”.
Participating States, through their relevant ministries, national human rights institutions and equality bodies and law enforcement agencies and in collaboration with relevant stakeholders like academia, civil society organisations, interfaith and interreligious bodies and councils, and religious or belief communities have been actively working to promote equality and non-discrimination. However, much more remains to be done to fulfil OSCE commitments.
With its expertise on tolerance and non-discrimination as well as freedom of religion or belief, the OSCE is well positioned to provide a forum for a discussion on this topic. Building on the existing commitments, the meeting provided a forum where government officials, non-governmental organizations and community representatives explored challenges, shared examples of good practices and made recommendations on how to address intolerance and discrimination.
The objectives of the Conference were to:
- Examine existing challenges in the area of hate crimes and the security of religious communities;
- Discuss non-discrimination as the basis for the enjoyment of the freedom of religion or belief;
- Discuss the role of public and private educational programs as a mean to promote mutual respect and understanding;
- Identify ways for OSCE participating States in addressing intolerance and discrimination on religious grounds, including through developing partnerships with members of local communities and religious leaders; ensuring equal participation of women and men;
- Discuss how different religious or belief communities support and learn from each other to address discrimination and intolerance in an inclusive manner, ensuring that both women’s and men’s voices are heard and concerns are addressed; and
- Highlight good practices in ensuring that legislation is an effective tool to combat discrimination.
In her intervention, Equinet Chair Tena Šimonović Einwalter recommended the following:
“Analyses of the potential and achievements of equality bodies show that if they are given the necessary mandate, independence and resources, they can be a highly effective tool in promoting equality and fighting intolerance and discrimination on all grounds, including religion or belief. Therefore, it is suggested that OSCE Participating States that have not yet set up equality bodies consider doing so in order to contribute to better promotion and protection of the rights of religious communities and to tackle intolerance and discrimination based on religion and belief.
OSCE Participating States that have already set up national equality bodies are requested to ensure that their mandate covers religion and belief in all fields of life and that there are sufficient guarantees of their independence and effectiveness, including staff and financial resources, in line with standards set out by the European Commission and the Council of Europe.”
Faith in Equality: Religion and Belief in Europe (2017)The experience of equality bodies on the ground of religion and belief, collected in a number of Equinet reports, most recently from 2017, provides a number of important learnings, which she highlighted.
It is of utmost importance that a strong and protective legal framework is in place and is consistently applied in all countries. Equinet’s report underlines that even at the EU level there continues to be a gap in protection against discrimination on the ground of religion and belief, with only the field of employment and occupation being covered, given the delay in adopting the so-called ‘Horizontal Directive’ proposed in 2008, that is, ten years ago. The report also underlines the importance and practical benefit of taking an intersectional approach to discrimination experienced by religious minorities. This means recognizing that different groups experience discrimination on the ground of religion and belief differently. It affects women and men or persons of different ethnic origin in different, albeit equally unacceptable, ways. Such intersections can be used to tackle some of the cases that would otherwise fall outside the scope of legal protection.
It is evident that religion and belief are highly debated and politicized topics in today’s societies. Discrimination on this ground is often closely linked with other forms and grounds of discrimination and some of the cases raise difficult legal questions of conflicting human rights. Equality bodies, as key players in an institutional architecture for equality, play a crucial role in fighting intolerance and discrimination, promoting the value of equality and equal treatment and working together with duty bearers including states, employers and service providers.