Nazila Ghanea, Upholding Religious Freedom Must Be A Key Priority in Sweden

In a statement at the end of her 10-day visit to Sweden, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Nazila Ghanea, called on the country to strengthen its engagement and dialogue with faith communities to combat religious or belief intolerance. Ghanea highlighted the numerous challenges faced by Sweden both nationally and globally, particularly in light of the burning of the Holy Qur’an.

Ghanea emphasized the need for vigilance regarding religious or belief intolerance and discrimination within society, stating that societal harassment, discrimination, and threats must not go unnoticed. She acknowledged that Sweden’s historical homogeneity and secular model have shaped the understanding of religion as an individual and private matter. However, with significant changes in societal structures, including recent migration, religiosity has become more diverse within Swedish society.

The UN expert stressed the importance of not underestimating the dynamism and range of issues that arise from this diversity. She warned that complacency by authorities at different levels could lead to oversight, delays in access to justice, blind spots, and distrust. Ghanea called for disaggregated and regular data collection to gain insight into the actual enjoyment of rights, emphasizing that this should be voluntary and based on self-definition.

During her visit, Nazila Ghanea held meetings with government officials, agencies, members of parliament, the Supreme Administrative Court, prosecutors, police authorities, civil society organizations, representatives of religious or belief communities, faith-based actors, and academics. She also met with representatives of local authorities, the judiciary, and the police in Malmö, as well as the Swedish Institute for Human Rights in Lund.

Ghanea highlighted that recent challenges have prompted authorities to recognize that faith communities can be part of the solution. She emphasized the importance of ongoing outreach and dialogue as channels for exchange, learning, and trust-building, stating that these efforts should not be set up episodically after crises. The UN expert suggested that the legitimacy and representation of these fora can be enhanced when they are rooted in the community and established by faith communities and civil society themselves.

Dr. Nazila Ghanea, a professor of International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford, will present a full report on her visit to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2024. She took up the mandate as the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief on August 1, 2022. Dr. Ghanea has extensive research and publication experience in international human rights law, including freedom of religion or belief, and has served as a consultant to numerous agencies.

The Special Rapporteurs, part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, are independent experts who address specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They work on a voluntary basis and are not UN staff members. Independent from any government or organization, they serve in their individual capacity.

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