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New report explores intersection between freedom of religion or belief and indigenous rights

8 Dec 2022

CSW has today published a new report, titled ‘Belief and belonging’, which explores the intersection between freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) and indigenous rights, and calls on states to ensure that the individual rights of all indigenous people receive the same protections afforded to non-indigenous peoples.

The report is based on a series of in-person and virtual interviews conducted by CSW and independent researchers with indigenous people representing different ethno-linguistic groups and religious beliefs in four countries: Colombia, India, Mexico and Vietnam.

Researchers found that FoRB violations affecting indigenous people in Colombia and Mexico are primarily carried out by community leaders and local authorities who enjoy the backing of the courts in Colombia, but who in Mexico are violating Mexican law. In India, non-state actors are primarily responsible for FoRB violations which take place within a culture of impunity as no government action is taken to protect FoRB in indigenous communities, while in Vietnam most violations affecting indigenous peoples can be directly linked to the policies and actions of the government.

Despite these differences, CSW believes that the research highlights a common thread in which perpetrators of violations, and the authorities in the countries in which they take place, have either failed or refused to recognise that ‘individual indigenous people hold the same universally protected fundamental rights that belong to every human being’, in effect placing indigenous people ‘in a second class of citizen within their countries, where, because of their indigenous identity, the violation of some of their rights is permissible.’

The report concludes: ‘The intersection of indigenous rights and FoRB must be recognised and systematically and urgently addressed at the international, regional, national and local levels to ensure that the individual rights of all indigenous people receive the same protections afforded to non-indigenous peoples. This must be done in a way that also considers the way in which indigenous peoples have historically experienced attacks on their culture and identity with, in many cases, devastating consequences. These efforts must also be led by indigenous people themselves, with voices from both majority and minority communities within those populations.’

In addition to making specific recommendations to the governments of each country, it calls on the United Nations and Member States to ensure that the right to FoRB of indigenous peoples is consistently raised in bilateral and multilateral fora, and to ‘increase proactively efforts to address intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief in indigenous communities, including by providing training for the judiciary and local authorities.’

CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: ‘CSW’s new report challenges the common and dangerous misconception that collective cultural rights are either incompatible with, or should take precedence over, the right to freedom of religion or belief. Such arguments have only increased the marginalisation of individuals within already marginalised populations, rendering them more vulnerable to discrimination, poverty, forced displacement, and even violence and brutality. We urge the international community to take heed of the report’s recommendations, elevating indigenous voices to lead efforts in developing a framework that ensures indigenous people are free to fully enjoy all of the individual rights and protections afforded to non-indigenous peoples.’

Note to Editors:

1.       Click here to read ‘Belief and belonging: Indigenous identity and freedom of religion or belief’.



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We believe no one should suffer discrimination, harassment or persecution because of their beliefs