Freedom of conscience is enshrined in international law
- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.” – Article 18.1
- The ICCPR also contains the following provisions:
"No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice." – Article 18.2
"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." - Article 18.3
"The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions." - Article 18.4
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the historical importance of freedom of conscience, and highlights that each person is endowed with conscience and has a corresponding right to freedom of conscience
- "Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people" – Preamble
- "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." – Article 1
- "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." – Article 18
The Resolution adopted at the 36th Session of the General Assembly, "Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief," (A/RES/36/55) emphasizes the rights contained in the ICCPR and the importance of freedom of conscience for world peace
- "Convinced that freedom of religion and belief should also contribute to the attainment of the goals of world peace, social justice and friendship among peoples and to the elimination of ideologies or practices of colonialism and racial discrimination"
The Resolution adopted at the 48th Session of the General Assembly, "Elimination of all forms of religious intolerance," (A/RES/48/128) reaffirms that the right of conscience comes from the inherent dignity of the human person
- "Freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief is a human right derived from the inherent dignity of the human person and guaranteed to all without discrimination" – Paragraph 1
The Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development underscores respect for the "various religious and ethical values" of populations
- "The implementation of the recommendations contained in the Programme of Action is the sovereign right of each country, consistent with national laws and development priorities, with full respect for the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of its people, and in conformity with universally recognized international human rights." – Chapter II, Principles
The Human Rights Committee (HRC) in General Comment No. 22 to the ICCPR (Article 18) comments on the "far-reaching and profound" nature of the right to freedom of conscience, and highlights that it "cannot be derogated from." It also infers a right to conscientious objection.
- "The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion… is far-reaching and profound; it encompasses freedom of thought on all matters, personal conviction and the commitment to religion or belief, whether manifested individually or in community with others. The Committee draws the attention of States parties to the fact that the freedom of thought and the freedom of conscience are protected equally with the freedom of religion and belief. The fundamental character of these freedoms is also reflected in the fact that this provision cannot be derogated from, even in time of public emergency…" – Paragraph 1
- "the Covenant does not explicitly refer to a right to conscientious objection...such a right can be derived from article 18, inasmuch as the obligation to use lethal force may seriously conflict with the freedom of conscience and the right to manifest one's religion or belief." – Paragraph 11*
ACTION POINTS FOR UN DELEGATES
- Call for the inclusion of language recognizing conscience rights
- Example from the 46th Session of the Commission on Population and Development "New trends in migration: demographic aspects" (E/2013/25 E/CN.9/2013/7
"Further reaffirms the sovereign right of each country to implement the recommendations of the Programme of Action or other proposals in the present resolution, consistent with national laws and development priorities, with full respect for the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of its people, and in conformity with universally recognized international human rights;" - Paragraph 3
With regard to abortion references that cannot be removed, add language to ensure respect for the rights of conscience of health care professionals
Ensure that conscience rights are not misconstrued to allow for human rights violations and include language condemning harmful practices
- "...with due respect for the rights of conscience of health care providers"
- Example from the 67th Session of the General Assembly "Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilations" (A/RES/67/146)
"Urges States to condemn all harmful practices that affect women and girls, in particular female genital mutilations, whether committed within or outside a medical institution, and to take all necessary measures, including enacting and enforcing legislation, to prohibit female genital mutilations and protect women and girls from this form of violence, and to end impunity" - Paragraph 4
* In Frédéric Foin v France, Communication No. 666/1995, 9 November 1999, the Committee held that, "the author was discriminated against on the basis of his conviction of conscience." (at para 10.3).