Research Project

Freedom of Religion or Belief and Equality Unit

Principal Investigator
Dr Ahmed Shaheed
The project is a collaboration between the Essex Human Rights Centre and the Ralph Bunche Institute at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

The Unit examines various aspects related to the implementation of international standards on freedom of religion or belief including research into intersections between freedom of religion or belief and other human rights, especially freedom of expression and gender equality.

It engages international experts, faith-based actors and civil society stakeholders from the United Kingdom and beyond in promoting literacy in freedom of religion or belief and in capacity-building of human rights defenders to promote and monitor the implementation of international standards on religious freedom.

One of the key areas of its focus are Geneva-based human rights actors.

The research goals

The research focuses on analysing:

  • Obstacles to the implementation of the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, including patterns of state-religion relationships
  • The intersection between freedom of religion or belief and gender equality
  • The use by states of anti-blasphemy laws, hate speech laws and counter-terrorism laws to suppress freedom of expression and freedom of religion
  • Global trends in Antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of religious hatred
  • Effectiveness of various tools and approaches used in the advocacy of international standards on freedom of religion or belief including ‘Faith for Rights Initiative’ developed by the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • Under-explored normative dimensions of religious freedom such as the freedom of thought, the freedom of conscience and the freedom of belief

In addition to research activities, the Unit regularly engages with policymakers and other stakeholders. The FORB and Equality Unit focuses on capacity-building of local actors to promote international human rights standards and monitor trends, document violations and advocate for remedy; on networking with faith-based and civil society actors to build broad coalitions that promote a human rights approach to religious freedom; and on promoting literacy on freedom of religion or belief.

The Unit also regularly engages with the community of students on campus, including the Essex Human Rights Centre Clinic and various student societies on specific projects and activities.

Activities and Outputs

  • Completed national and regional consultations in nine countries around the world to examine the intersection between freedom of religion or belief and gender equality, May-December 2019
  • Convened consultations on antisemitism in several countries including Argentina, Canada, the Netherlands and the UK in March to June 2019
  • Workshop with UN and other experts on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran, February 2017, bringing together several UN special procedure mandate holders, officials of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), treaty body members, academic experts and civil society actors.
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