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Freedom of religion: UN expert urges Denmark to move towards a more inclusive ‘Danishness’

COPENHAGEN / GENEVA (22 March 2016) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, today called on the Government of Denmark to further its efforts to promote a more inclusive ‘Danishness’. 

“The Government has to play a leading role in further developing a fair and inclusive Danish society, in which members of religious communities, as well as secular people, can likewise feel at home,” Mr. Bielefeldt said at the conclusion of a nine-day official visit* to the country.

“I value that Denmark, which has quickly evolved from religious homogeneity to a diverse society, respects everyone’s right to freely practise their religion, both in private and in public,” the human rights expert said. “But in order to strengthen Denmark’s liberal approach to freedom of religion or belief, efforts are needed to prevent feelings of stigmatization and exclusion among religious minorities.”

The Special Rapporteur acknowledged efforts to promote dialogue among religious and non-religious groups, including projects initiated by the Established Church of Denmark (Folkekirke).

However, Mr. Bielefeldt noted widespread trends towards associating Muslims with extremism and terrorism. “Some voices in the public debate go so far as to suggest that Danishness and Islam mutually exclude each other,” he stressed. The UN expert also noted that “the Jewish Community, which traditionally feels very much at home in Denmark, sees itself exposed to hostility concerning religiously motivated circumcision of boys.”

The Special Rapporteur welcomed the positive role played by the Folkekirke, which has contributed to shaping an inclusive society in Denmark, not least concerning gender equality. At the same time, he cautioned that “the special constitutional status of the Folkekirke, in conjunction with other privileges, creates feelings of inequality among non-believers and religious minorities and thus should be reconsidered.”

Mr. Bielefeldt visited Denmark from 14 to 22 March 2016. In Copenhagen, Aarhus, Haderslev and Vollsmose, he met with various government officials and local authorities. He also held meetings with representatives of religious, belief communities, as well as with academicians, civil society organizations and the UN.

The Special Rapporteur will present a report containing his conclusions and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in 2017.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement by the Special Rapporteur: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=18500&LangID=E

Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt (Germany) assumed his mandate in August 2010. Mr. Bielefeldt is Professor of Human Rights and Human Rights Politics at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg. From 2003 to 2009, he was Director of Germany’s National Human Rights Institution. The Special Rapporteur’s research interests include various interdisciplinary facets of human rights theory and practice, with a focus on freedom of religion or belief. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomReligion/Pages/FreedomReligionIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

An e-Digest on Freedom of Religion or Belief – 25 years of thought by four UN Special Rapporteurs (download your copy): http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Religion/RapporteursDigestFreedomReligionBelief.pdf

Check the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/ReligionOrBelief.aspx

OHCHR Country Page – Denmark http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/DKIndex.aspx

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Mr. Xabier Celaya – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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