Resolution of the Conference “Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion: The International Legal Standards and their Implementation in National Legal Systems of European Countries”

Adopted by the International Scientific-Practical Conference “Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion: The International Legal Standards and their Implementation in National Legal Systems of European Countries states” September 10th 2010, Minsk

We, the participants of the International Scientific-Practical Conference “Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion: the International Legal Standards and their Implementation in National Legal Systems of European States”, share the conviction that freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of the fundamental human rights that define one’s personality and identity.
We consider extremely important for national legislation on freedom of conscience, religious activities and religious organizations to be in accordance with standards expressed by the following documents:
Art. 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”;
Art. 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), which determines the additional protection of this right: “No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others”;
Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (1981);
General comment No. 22 of the UN Human Rights Committee (1993), which clarifies that “Art. 18 protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The terms “belief” and “religion” are to be broadly construed. Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions. The Committee therefore views with concern, any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reason, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility on the part of a predominant religious community”. With regard to the restrictions, it is noted in the Comment that “restrictions are not allowed on grounds not specified there, even if they would be allowed as restrictions to other rights protected in the Covenant, such as national security. Limitations may be applied only for those purposes for which they were prescribed and must be directly related and proportionate to the specific need on which they are predicated. Restrictions may not be imposed for discriminatory purposes or applied in a discriminatory manner.”;

The European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950);
Art. 7 of the Final Act of the Helsinki meeting of the CSCE (1975);
Principal 16 of the Vienna Concluding Document (1989), in which participating States take upon themselves obligations to “grant upon their request to communities of believers, practising or prepared to practise their faith within the constitutional framework of their States, recognition of the status provided for them in their respective countries”, and to respect the right of the religious organisations to:
— establish and maintain freely accessible places of worship or assembly,
— organize themselves according to their own hierarchical and institutional structure,
select, appoint and replace their personnel in accordance with their respective  requirements and standards as well as with any freely accepted arrangement between them and their State,
— solicit and receive voluntary financial and other contributions;
engage in consultations with religious faiths, institutions and organizations in order to achieve a better understanding of the requirements of religious freedom;
respect the right of everyone to give and receive religious education in the language of his choice, whether individually or in association with others;
in this context respect, inter alia, the liberty of parents to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions;
— allow the training of religious personnel in appropriate institutions;
respect the right of individual believers and communities of believers to acquire, possess, and use sacred books, religious publications in the language of their choice and other articles and materials related to the practice of religion or belief,
allow religious faiths, institutions and organizations to produce, import and disseminate religious publications and materials;
favourably consider the interest of religious communities to participate in public dialogue, including through the mass media.
Moreover, the participating States recognize that “the exercise of the above-mentioned rights relating to the freedom of religion or belief may be subject only to such limitations as are provided by law and consistent with their obligations under international law and with their international commitments”.
Art. 32 of the Final Act of the Copenhagen Meeting of the CSCE (1990) concerning the rights of national minorities;
Participants also recognize the importance of the following sources:
Reports of UN special rapporteurs and other documents of the UN and its specialized units;
Decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and other documents of the Council of Europe;
Recommendations of the High Commissioner on National Minorities, as well as other OSCE documents, including recommendations on the analysis of the legislation on religion or belief (2005), prepared by the OSCE / ODIHR.
We declare that freedom of conscience and its implementation in the religious activities and activities of the religious groups can not be exercised without securing of other rights and freedoms such as freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly, protection of property rights, freedom of speech, without particular attention to children’s rights, the rights of migrants and refugees, rights of national minorities. The state through immigration and other laws should not interfere with the possibility of believers and leaders of religious communities and their representatives to establish and maintain direct contact with each other on the territory of one state and beyond, including freedom of movement to participate in various religious activities.
We call for the following four steps to be undertaken, to ensure the implementation of the international human rights standards by improving both existing legislation affecting religious freedom, and its implementation:
First, constant monitoring of legislation, and state policies and practice regarding freedom of conscience and activities of the religious organizations and groups. Monitoring should be conducted by religious organizations, independent experts, government agencies, international organisations, civil society and the media;
Secondly, the development of a permanent dialogue and consultation process on the improvement of legal instruments and institutions related to the regulation of legal relations in the sphere of freedom of conscience. This should involve experts such as theologians, political scientists, lawyers, representatives of civil society organisations and groups, the public, media, legislators, government officials. These consultations should take place in, among other ways, open public forums and academic seminars;
Thirdly, the development of a dialogue on implementing freedom of thought, conscience and religion and related human rights within the framework of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership. We call for this to be part of the development of a roadmap of the Eastern Partnership for Belarus;
Fourth, conducting educational activities in the field of human rights, in particular, freedom of conscience.
This resolution was proposed by the conference organisers: Advocates Europe; Center of Legal Transformation, Centre Ecumena. It was open for signing for conference participants, and was unanimously adopted on September 10th 2010 in the Belarusian capital Minsk.


The resolution is translated into English from the Russian original

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