CIHRS Jointly with EIPR & ANHRI| Oral Intervention before HRC 10th Session on the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

In United Nations Human Rights Council by

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Oral intervention by Hossam Bahgat
HRC 10th Sesstion
10 March 2009
Item 3: Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief- Interactive Dialogue

Thank you Mr. President

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, supported by its partners the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, congratulate the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief for her excellent report, and especially for her preliminary analysis of discrimination based on religion or belief as it impacts the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.

We wish to seek further elaboration from the Special Rapporteur on best practices in accommodating registration policies with the right to freedom of religion or belief.

Although the Egyptian Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion and belief, many citizens suffer from a discriminatory registration policy when they attempt to obtain mandatory identification documents, such as identity cards and birth certificates, where a citizen’s religion must be mentioned. Without any basis in statutory law, the government refuses to recognize conversion from Islam to any other religion, and limits available choices to the three state-recognized religions of Judaism, Christianity or Islam.

While this policy adversely affects anyone who is not Muslim, Christian, or Jewish, and anyone who would prefer to keep their convictions private, in Egypt today the greatest impact has been on adherents of the Baha’i faith and on persons who convert or wish to convert from Islam to Christianity. Both groups are left with a choice of either suppressing their religious conviction or misidentifying it in order to conduct basic daily activities – such as registering for school, opening a bank account, engaging in a property transaction, collecting a pension check, immunizing children – which all require a national ID or a birth certificate.

The inability of Baha’i Egyptians to obtain identification documents for the past eight years has caused them severe difficulties in accessing many basic rights, including the right to education, to work, to participate in public affairs and to have a family. Egyptian courts have struck down this policy and ruled in favor of Baha’i Egyptians over a year ago, but this ruling remains unimplemented.

Although Islamic law is always invoked by the government as the justification for these discriminatory practices, many court rulings and authoritative scholarly opinions have shown clearly that this government practice is a result of a selective and restrictive interpretation of shari’a, in conflict with the state’s obligation to promote and protect the rights of all its citizens without discrimination.

Thank you, Mr. President