In many countries religious and belief minorities are subject to harassment and discrimination on the grounds of their convictions. This is not acceptable.
We are therefore working in cooperation with other countries and organizations to move the situation of these minorities higher up on the international agenda. These efforts are an integrated part of our human rights policy and are followed up through our cooperation with various international organizations and through direct contact with specific countries.
The rights of religious minorities follow from key human rights treaties and are a vital factor for democracy. The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is closely related to other human rights, such as freedom of expression, association and assembly.
Thus respect for human rights implies that all persons belonging to religious minorities are able to practice their religion freely and are protected against hate crimes, abuse and persecution. This also includes the right to not have a religion.
These rights should be enshrined in national constitutions and legislation, and respected in practice by states. While the human rights obligations are clear, insufficient implementation by governments is the greatest obstacle to religious freedom for people around the world today.
We know that persons who belong to a minority within a minority are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and violence. Therefore our policies should always underline the principle that human rights are for all, regardless of national or ethnic origin, sex, gender identity, colour, religion or belief, language or any other status.
In order to safeguard these rights, it is important that government officials in all relevant sectors of society, and in particular the police, prison staff and other personnel in the security sector, have sufficient knowledge of and training in basic human rights. Norway is ready to contribute to awareness-raising and training programmes in this field.
Norway considers it particularly important that the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief is granted access to all countries, in particular to countries where religious minorities are subject to discrimination and persecution.
Religion is a controversial subject in many countries, and addressing religious issues can entail risks for those involved. Human rights defenders who work to uphold freedom of religion and belief should enjoy the protection and support that follows from relevant UN resolutions, such as the landmark Resolution on Protecting Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN Human Rights Council on 26 March 2013.
Improving the situation of religious minorities is a long-term priority for Norwegian foreign policy. The purpose of these guidelines is to provide an informative and operative tool for the Norwegian Foreign Service.
Norway’s diplomatic and consular missions can play an important role by supporting human rights defenders in this field, asking the right questions, and providing information, for example in the Universal Periodic Review process under the Human Rights Council.
We hope you will make active use of the guidelines in the country where you are serving.