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On 14 March 2012 at the 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, in conjunction with the UK-based National Secular Society (NSS) and India-based news portal New Age Islam, IHEU hosted a panel discussion on Religion, Law, Democracy and Human Rights. The four panellists examined the extent to which the promotion of religious law is undermining democracy, civil law and human rights around the world.

Keith Porteus Wood and Raheel RazaThe discussion, chaired by IHEU Main Representative in Geneva, Roy Brown, opened with a speech by Raheel Raza, a Muslim women’s rights activist from Toronto described how modern hard-line interpretations of the sharia have been exploited to promote an extremist interpretation of Islam that has gained ground throughout the West, from Australia to North America and Europe.  You can read her speech at: The Rise of Sharia in the West.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the UK National Secular Society described, how both  Christian and Muslim leaders, often remote from the needs of their followers, exercise undue political influence in Europe, while the lack of separation of church and state in Ireland and other European states enabled the Catholic hierarchy for decades to hide the extent of clerical child abuse. See: Religion, Law and Politics in Europe.

Leo Igwe, until this year IHEU representative for West Africa expanded on his speech to the plenary of the Human Rights Council earlier in the day by describing the extent of evangelical Christian involvement in accusations of witchcraft against children and the vulnerable in Africa. See: Witchcraft Accusations Fuelling Human Rights Abuse in Africa.

The final speaker, Sultan Shahin, editor of the New Age Islam news portal, laid the blame for the Wahabi Islam takeover of the majority of Asia’s mosques squarely at the door of Saudi Arabia, which has spent billions of dollars over the past 30 years promoting, often violently, their joyless version of Islam. See: How Hard-Line Islam is becoming mainstream in the East .

The question and answer session that followed the four speeches provoked a lively debate, and ended with a Christian fundamentalist who, having accused the organisers of the seminar of lack of balance because the panel contained two Muslims and no Jews, and even after being pressed by the chair, refused to condemn witchcraft accusations made against innocent children in the name of Christianity.

In his concluding remarks, Roy Brown noted that – as we had been reminded only last week by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay – when seeking a balance between culture and tradition on the one hand and human rights on the other, the balance must be struck firmly in favour of human rights.

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