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Strengthening the Role of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

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The Special Rapporteur holds the key United Nations mandate for the protection of freedom of religion and belief. This article gives an overview of the establishment and developing role of the Rapporteur and considers the way in which the three individuals who have held the office so far have carried out their mandate. It assesses the effectiveness of the methodologies used by the Rapporteur and, in particular, questions the shift of emphasis from prevention to protection. It then analyses the way in which the Rapporteurs have dealt with some of the substantive issues required by their role. The example of religious defamation is given to demonstrate the dangers of Rapporteurs taking overly simplistic approaches to complex issues. Finally a number of areas where further consideration is needed—in particular with respect to funding, the development of a treaty on religious freedom and the relationship with States—are briefly overviewed. The article concludes that the performance of the Rapporteurs have been exceptional, particularly given the limited financial resources allocated to the mandate and the complexities of the problems with which the mandate deals.


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