Australian Permanent Mission and Consulate-General
Switzerland, Liechtenstein


Human Rights Council - 19th Regular Session

Item 3

Interactive dialogue with the

Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief

5 March 2012

Australia would like to thank the Special Rapporteur for his report. We share the Special Rapporteur’s view that individuals as rights-holders have an inalienable right under international law to freedom of religion or belief, independent of State recognition. While some States may have an official State religion, or may provide certain administrative recognition to some religious communities, the rights and freedoms of all individuals must be respected fully by law. We also agree with the Special Rapporteur that the understanding of individual rights-holders about what constitutes a religion or belief can be very diverse, and that such diversity should be both respected and celebrated. The rights of those belonging to religious minorities must be protected.

Valuing diversity is important because multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies contribute to robust and resilient communities and nations. Australia has a strong multi-faith experience. We are one of the world’s most diverse societies. Over one in four Australians was born overseas. Further, over two in five Australians have one or both of their parents born overseas. Our people identify with more than 270 ethnicities and speak more than 260 languages. Of our population of about22 million, nearly half a million are Muslims – living as a significant and vital part of our community. All Australians of all backgrounds are entitled to celebrate, practice and maintain their culture and religious traditions within the law and free from discrimination. A key element of our multicultural policy, launched in 2011, is community-led strategies for overcoming intolerance.

We were interested to hear about the Special Rapporteur’s involvement in the December 2011 Istanbul Process meeting, which considered ways to implement this Council’s resolution 16/18 on combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief. Australia was pleased to co-sponsor a similar resolution presented by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to the General Assembly in 2011. We would therefore be interested to hear the Special Rapporteur’s view on ways to take this important agenda forward.

Australia has a long history in promoting tolerance and combating stereotypes through the media – having established the world’s first multicultural, multilingual broadcaster in 1979. We are particularly interested in the potentially positive role the mass media has to play.