November 16, 2006 10:37 Age: 7 yrs

Van der Vyver Addresses U.S. State Department

By: Mary Loftus

Johan van der Vyver

Seek true international consensus instead of settling for a “lukewarm” convention on religious tolerance and nondiscrimination, Emory Law Professor Johan van der Vyver urged United Nations representatives, government officials and others gathered at the State Department in Washington D.C. October 30.

Van der Vyver, the I.T. Cohen Professor of International Law and Human Rights and a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, spoke at an event commemorating the 25th anniversary of the U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.

Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom John V. Hanford III gave the opening remarks, and keynote speakers included the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Religion or Belief Asma Jahangir of Pakistan and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Other speakers included Professor Sayyed H. Nasr of George Washington University, Professor Robert Destro of the Catholic University in Washington D.C., and Van der Vyver.

The Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief was adopted by a U.N. General Assembly resolution in 1981. The final step of making the declaration into a convention—complete with enforcement—has yet to be taken. Van der Vyver said that, even now, he believes this step would be premature.

“The question I wish to raise is whether the declaration has been exposed to sufficient public debate, and has gained an adequate degree of consensus among the international community of states, for purposes of converting it into a binding convention,” said Van der Vyver. “I tend to answer this question in the negative.” 

His concern is that persistent controversies among the mainline religions of the world about core elements of freedom of religion or belief would prompt drafters to settle for a “lukewarm” convention with negligible enforcement—“one that excels in mediocrity and which, like chicken soup, can do no harm.”

The declaration phase serves an essential purpose, said Van der Vyver, in that it invites debate, identifies areas of contention, opens avenues for persuasion, promotes consensus building, and helps to create an international ethos based on human rights. Through dialogue and deliberation, he said, even the most “unlikely bedfellows,” with extremely diverse religious predilections, can uncover a wide spectrum of common ground.

The Center for the Study of Law and Religion is home to world class scholars and forums on the religious foundations of law, politics, and society. It offers first-rank expertise on how the teachings and practices of Christianity, Judaism and Islam have shaped and can continue to transform the fundamental ideas and institutions of our public and private lives. The scholarship of CSLR faculty provides the latest perspectives, while its conferences and public forums foster reasoned and robust public debate.

To read the full text of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, go to:



List: <- Back to: News Releases