Research Handbooks in International Law series
Edited by Sarah Joseph and Adam McBeth
Chapter 18: Religion, Belief and International Human Rights in the Twenty-first Century
Peter Cumper 1 Introduction From time immemorial human beings have sought to comprehend and celebrate the metaphysical.1 It is thus perhaps unsurprising that, of all the human rights accorded contemporary legal recognition, freedom of religion (and equivalent belief) has been described as the one with the longest lineage.2 That said, with organised religion seemingly in decline in the West,3 and a relative paucity of literature in the field of religious human rights,4 one might be tempted to assume that religious belief is of little contemporary relevance. However, any such suggestion would be false. Matters pertaining to religion or belief have, in recent years, clearly had an impact on international affairs, leading to claims that there has even been a ‘desecularisation of the world’.5 The influence of religion in the global arena is evidenced in at least three respects. First, religious belief has increasingly played a significant role in international politics,6 a by-product of what some refer to as the rise of ‘fundamentalism’.7 Secondly, mass immigration and demographic changes have put 1 See, for example, Karen Armstrong, A History of God (Heinemann, London, 1993). See Paul Sieghart, The International Law of Human Rights (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1983) 324. 3 See Steve Bruce, God is Dead: Secularism in the West (Blackwell, Oxford, 2002). 4 Prior to the last two decades, very little was written on religious human rights. Whilst this is still a relatively undeveloped area, key texts now include: J D van der Vyver and J Witte Jr...
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