*** ELIMINATING RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE
Statement to the forty-fourth session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights
Agenda item 23: Implementation of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief
17 February 1988
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"All religions teach that we should love one another; that we should seek out our own shortcomings before we presume to condemn the faults of others; that we must not consider ourselves superior to our neighbors."
If all people were to follow these norms, as described in the passage we have just quoted from the Baha'i writings, religious intolerance would cease to be a blot on human affairs. The ideals of the 1981 Declaration would become a reality for the suffering victims of religious persecution.
The Baha'i International Community believes that binding international norms protecting human rights are of great importance. We are therefore following with great interest the recent discussions in the Sub-Commission and the Commission on the possible elaboration of a binding international instrument dealing with freedom of religion or belief, inspired by the recommendations contained in Mrs. Odio Benito's excellent study. We are convinced, however, that in this delicate process it is important not to lose sight of the standards already spelled out in the 1981 Declaration. As the Commission's Special Rapporteur, Dr. Ribeiro, indicated in his report presented last year, these standards can be understood as moral guidelines to those states which voted in favor of the Declaration in 1981.
We also believe that it is useful to focus attention on contemporary manifestations of religious intolerance. We have therefore studied with interest Dr. Ribeiro's latest report, hope that his mandate will once again be renewed by the Commission, and wish to underline the importance of forging a broad and non-partisan consensus on the elimination of religious intolerance.
While Dr. Ribeiro has chosen to focus on allegations of violations of religious freedom in seven countries, it is important to bear in mind that many countries suffer from the pernicious influence of religious intolerance. Efforts to implement the 1981 Declaration, and to formulate an eventual convention, must be guided by an appreciation for the universal nature of the problem.
In the Baha'i view, a crucial means for implementing the 1981 Declaration is the development of tolerance among individuals and the abolition of religious exclusivity and fanaticism. Dr. Ribeiro has rightly pointed out that intransigent attitudes, the claim of religious believers to an absolute and exclusive hold on truth, and the denial of the right of everyone to be different are root causes of religious discrimination.
Indeed, human beings have a tendency to view their own beliefs as right, and all others as wrong. They have, we suggest, erroneously interpreted the tenets of their own faiths as advocating such exclusivity, and sometimes as giving them the right to persecute others under the banner of upholding their version of truth. The Baha'i writings admonish humankind to abandon such intolerant attitudes and replace them with mutual respect and forbearance.
How can religious dogmatism be banished from human minds and hearts? In the first place, we believe that all the world's major religions have proceeded from the same Source, worshipped alike by Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jew and Moslem, as well as members of other religions. The core teachings of every religion -- for example, the teaching to love one's neighbor - are essentially the same, and we submit that they reflect one universal truth.
Understanding of this point will enable each individual, whatever his or her religion, to view other religions with due respect. This perspective fosters tolerance among people of various beliefs, despite the differences that may exist in their outward religious practices. For this reason, we welcome Dr. Ribeiro's suggestion that interreligious dialogue should be fostered and that such discussions should aim at "emphasizing the similarities among various religions and beliefs rather than their differences."
While believing, as part of our faith, that all the great religions are united in the fundamental principles that they espouse, the Baha'i writings advocate the moral obligation of everyone to search for truth independently. Religions and beliefs must never be forced on people. Instead, the Baha'i writings indicate that each individual should utilize his own powers of intellect, reason and spirit to search for truth.
The principle of independent search after truth can help to heal the wounds inflicted by intolerance in at least two important ways. On the one hand, it induces each individual to act humbly towards others, instead of with an air of superiority, and to respect their right to choose beliefs of their own as a result of their own quest for truth.
On the other hand, we believe that, if people are permitted to question the dogmas handed down over generations, and to seek truth using their own faculties of perception, they will develop a genuine appreciation for religious tolerance.
We therefore welcome initiatives designed to increase respect for different beliefs and understanding among religions. This is why, for example, the Baha'i International Community has actively participated, along with other non-governmental organizations, in making plans for a Second International Conference on Tolerance for Diversity of Religion or Belief, scheduled to be held in Warsaw, Poland in 1989.
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