Conscience


The right of conscience, including the freedom to adopt and manifest a religion or belief of one's choice, is inherent to every person and must be afforded the highest protection by States to ensure the development of free and just societies.

INTERNATIONAL LAW

Freedom of conscience is enshrined in international law


"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

UN DOCUMENTS

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

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

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

The Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development underscores respect for the "various religious and ethical values" of populations

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.

ACTION POINTS FOR UN DELEGATES

  1. 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

  2. With regard to abortion references that cannot be removed, add language to ensure respect for the rights of conscience of health care professionals
    • "...with due respect for the rights of conscience of health care providers"​​

  3. Ensure that conscience rights are not misconstrued to allow for human rights violations and include language condemning harmful practices
    • 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).