GENEVA/THE HAGUE The Government of the Netherlands must reinforce its achievements in upholding freedom of religion or belief, to address emerging challenges like rising antisemitism and Islamophobia, says the UN Special Rapporteur on the issue, Ahmed Shaheed.

The guarantees of freedom of religion or belief provided in law and in practice are generally robust and include a number of good practices, said Shaheed presenting an end of mission statement at the end of a visit to the country.

A key feature of these guarantees is the commitment to State neutrality in matters of religion or belief, equal treatment for all, and to international human rights standards.

Shaheed also referred to emerging challenges which required continued investment in the rule of law and the promotion of pluralism and inclusive policies.

There are emerging concerns such as the growing polarisation of society between those with communal commitments to religion, including the public manifestation of religion or belief, and those who espouse a secular world view and who increasingly oppose longstanding traditions of accommodation and moderation.

Of particular concern is rising antisemitism and exclusionary discourse directed at the Muslim community. This is not only manifesting itself in the attitudes of some quarters of society including the media, but also through legislative measures that are already in place or in the pipeline and are likely to have a disproportionate impact on the freedom of religion or belief of minority communities, he said.

The Government will need to carefully address these matters to ensure that all communities continue to feel safe, welcomed and included in society. This will require strengthening institutional and societal resilience to uphold longstanding commitments to non-discrimination and to freedom of religion or belief for all, he added.

Despite some worrying trends, there is evidence, however, that the Government, is responding to these challenges in a careful and thoughtful manner. Some of these responses of the Government constitute good practice that should be shared with others. This includes the Government's practices for promoting interreligious dialogue, cooperating with religious or belief communities and efforts to enhance religious literacy.

During his nine-day visit to the country, Shaheed had meetings with Government officials and representatives of civil society, including human rights defenders and monitors, as well as members of faith-based communities and the academic world. He travelled to The Hague, Utrecht, Amsterdam and Rotterdam to visit various communities and institutions.

Shaheed's final report containing his conclusions and recommendations will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2020.

Source: United Nations Human Rights

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