The International Center for Law and Religion Studies (ICLRS) assisted Focus on Freedom of Religion or Belief (Focus on FoRB) in organizing the conference “Freedom of Religion or Belief and Protecting Vulnerable Identities: A Global Snapshot,” held 20-22 June 2008, in Geneva, Switzerland, in conjunction with the convening of the annual meeting of UN Special Rapporteurs and Chairs of Treaty Bodies. Focus on FORB is an organization of international scholars, leaders, lawyers, and other experts in the field of freedom of religion and belief, created as a follow-up to the 2006 Prague Conference commemorating the 25th anniversary of the 1981 U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. The title for the Geneva conference was derived from a recent report of the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ms. Asma Jahangir, which assessed “Vulnerable Groups” in the context of freedom of religion or belief. (For the report, see Doc A/HRC/6/5 dated 20 July 2007 available here, click on ‘annual reports’ and then on ‘A/HRC/6/5 under 2007’.) Ms. Jahangir attended the conference, participating as the respondent in the panel session entitled “Striking the Balance: Identifying Vulnerabilities and Responding to Them.”
The first-day sessions focused on whether respect for freedom of religion or belief can be legislated and how makers of law and policy can strike a balance between protecting individual identities and FORB, as well as how to take a balanced approach to identifying and responding to vulnerabilities of groups and individuals in freedom of conscience matters. Day two began with a look at perspectives on current UN developments in FORB. It concluded with the session, “What next? Suggestions for future work and seminars by Focus on Freedom of Religion or Belief,” chaired by Malcolm Evans, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law at the University of Bristol and one of the founding forces behind Focus on FORB. ICLRS participants included Professor Cole Durham, Director; Robert Smith, Managing Director; David Kirkham, Senior Fellow for Comparative Law and International Policy; and Jim Stevens and George and Kathryn Jarvis, Senior Fellows and field representatives in Brussels and Geneva, respectively. Primary financial support for the event came from the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. To see a copy of the program, please click here.