The United Nations Human Rights Committee Unpacked

What is the Human Rights Committee?

The United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRCttee) reviews the commitments of States to, and implementation of, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). All States party to the ICCPR are required to report to this treaty body comprised of independent experts after the first year of acceding to the ICCPR, and then at regular intervals thereafter.

The State under review is supposed to report on how well it feels it has been implementing the Articles of the ICCPR. This report is examined by the HRCttee members alongside submissions from civil society actors before each review, after which the State is questioned on its human rights record and commitment to the ICCPR. Violations, cases of concern, and constitutional inconsistencies are among some of the issues highlighted by the Committee during its review.

Once the concerns have been addressed, a document outlining the Committee’s concluding observations, i.e. its concerns and recommendations to the State Party, is published.

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Nepal’s criminalisation of conversion seems to protect Hinduism at the expense of other religions.

Three years on from the date that Nepal adopted its new constitution, there are concerns about its ‘anti-conversion’ clause, which seemed designed to specifically protect Hinduism at the expense of other religions.

The clause, in Article 26 (3) of the constitution, states:

“No person shall, in the exercise of the right conferred by this Article, do, or cause to be done, any act which may be contrary to public health, decency and morality or breach public peace, or convert another person from one religion to another or any act or conduct that may jeopardize other’s religion and such act shall be punishable by law.”

These provisions were strengthened in the Penal Code 2017 which came into force in August 2018. Section 158 states that “No person shall convert any one from one religion to another or make attempt to or abet such conversion”  and carries a punishment of up to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to fifty thousand rupees.

The criminalisation of conversion is a direct infringement on freedom of religion or belief as it robs individuals of the right to change their religion. These provisions also threaten the right to freedom of expression as they could be used to prohibit a range of legitimate expressions of religion or belief such as charitable activities or speaking about one’s faith.

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Uncertainty for Religious Minorities as Nepal Celebrates First Anniversary of its Constitution.

Notes to Editors: The eight Christians in Charikot, eastern Nepal were acquitted of all charges on 6 December 2016


“For the last two years we have been unsure about how long the doors will be open for us to practise our faith freely. We were not expecting this level of harassment”. Tanka Subedi, Christian leader and human rights defender, Kathmandu, Nepal

On 21 September, eight Christians in Charikot, eastern Nepal will attend their next (and possibly final) court hearing – one day after Nepal marks the first anniversary of the promulgation of its long awaited constitution. They all face charges of attempting to convert children to Christianity through the distribution of a comic book which explains the story of Jesus.

Bimal Shahi, Prakash Pradhan and Shakti Pakhrin of the Charikot group spent together 9 days in jail accused of illegal conversation because of the distribution of a small pamphlet "The Great story" with the story of Jesus explained for children
Bimal Shahi, Prakash Pradhan and Shakti Pakhrin from Charikot holding copies of “The Great Story”comic book. Photo Credit: Giulio Paletta/CSW 2016, Nepal

The arrests took place in June 2016, following two trauma counselling sessions organised by Teach Nepal, a Kathmandu-based non-governmental organisation (NGO). The sessions sought to address the psychological needs of children affected by the earthquakes that hit Nepal in April 2015 and were held on 8 and 9 June in two schools in Charikot: Modern Nepal School and Mount Valley Academy. When they finished, the organisers distributed a small gift pack to the children, which included a handkerchief and a 23-page comic book entitled The Great Story.

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The UN at 70: Will Freedom of Religion or Belief Continue to be Sidelined?

In October 2015, the United Nations – the most significant global human rights project serving seven billion people in 193 member states – turned seventy.

There is no doubt that the last 70 years have witnessed significant positive development with regards to the legal framework protecting freedom of religion or belief, however, when it comes to the actual realisation of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) across the world, the situation on the ground in many countries remains challenging.

FoRB in International Law

Although religious freedom does not have its own convention, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a core human rights treaty with 169 state parties and ratified by 169 states, as well as Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) provide strong, legal protection of FoRB These legal protections also cover those with non-religious beliefs. Furthermore, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief has reported a number of violations of freedom of religion or belief to the UN Human Rights Council and provided a wealth of interpretative information and normative analysis of FoRB.

In practice: the global realisation of FoRB

However, if you base the assessment of the success of the UN on the actual realisation of religious freedom across the world, the performance of the UN remains discouraging.  According to PEW Research Centre, about 5.5 billion people (77% of the world’s population) were living in countries with high or very high overall levels of restrictions on religion in 2013. CSW has reported a wide variety of FoRB violations from 26 countries including Eritrea, Sudan, Burma, China, Pakistan, Cuba, Iran and Egypt. Violations range from violence, killings, imprisonment and sexual violence to discrimination in employment or education and restrictions on the construction of places of worship. Given this background, it is obvious that the implementation of FoRB for all faiths and none remains on a rocky road.

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