“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
The Chairman of the UDHR drafting committee was Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had consistently argued that freedom of religion was one of the four essential freedoms of mankind.
The UDHR, with its total of 30 articles, was presented not as a legally binding instrument but as an aspirational document outlining essential guidelines on fundamental human rights, and with the stated objective of realising “a common standard of achievement for all peoples of all nations”. Eight nations from the assembly abstained from the vote to adopt the document, but none dissented.
Although initially not envisaged as creating binding legal obligations, Article 18 has over time acquired a normative character within general international law, arguably binding all states. It established a platform for articulating and elaborating the provisions on freedom of religion and religious non-discrimination in the (1966) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the (1966) International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which together are known as the “International Bill of Rights”.
ARTICLE 18: FROM RHETORIC TO REALITY, highlights the current rhetoric of the observance of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and underlines practical measures that can and should be taken by the UK Government to turn this rhetoric to reality to protect the millions who are vulnerable to violence, discrimination and disadvantage as a result of its abuse.
Our first report, ARTICLE 18: AN ORPHANED RIGHT (2013) also examined the abuse of Article 18 rights worldwide, and what the British Government could do.