Religion and human rights

What are the potential points of collaboration?

In many circles, the words “religion” and “human rights” are seen as opposing concepts. For many activists working on women’s rights, LGBT concerns, and more, organized faith communities and their leaders are invariably a big part of the the problem, and only rarely, if ever, part of the solution.This view, however, vastly underestimates existing and potential points of collaboration. In this openGlobalRights theme, we explore the possibilities across regions, faith traditions, and issues.


Lockdowns vs. religious freedom: COVID-19 is a trust building exercise

By: Gunnar Ekeløve-Slydal & Liv H. Kvanvig
Русский | Bahasa

Governments must partner with faith leaders to battle COVID-19, creating an opportunity to build necessary trust and cooperation with wider parts of the population.

Will COVID-19 increase religious hostilities and discrimination?

By: Marie Juul Petersen  & Claire Thomas & Sajjad Hassan
Español | العربية

COVID-19 and its impacts may hit some religious minorities disproportionately hard, exacerbating economic inequalities, social hostilities and discrimination.

Promoting freedom of religion or belief – key lessons

By: Marie Juul Petersen  & Katherine Marshall
Español | العربية

Freedom of religion or belief is rightly gaining more attention, but steps to promote this right need to be anchored in international standards, locally relevant ...

To protect human rights abroad, preach to Trump voters

By: Howard Lavine & James Ron

Religious leaders can help convince the most ethnocentric and authoritarian American voters to oppose Washington’s backing of abusive dictators.

Malaysia’s punishment of lesbian couple highlights OIC rejection of LGBTQ rights

By: Robert C. Blitt

Malaysia’s recent caning of a homosexual couple reflects a larger problem with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) continued support for discriminatory ...

UN’s approach inside Myanmar abandons human rights principles

By: Liam Mahony

Although UN human rights bodies have criticized the persecution of the Rohingya, UN agencies inside Myanmar have been far too deferential to the authorities.

Using foreign aid for state repression in Thailand

By: Salvador Santino F. Regilme, Jr.

During transnational security crises, aid recipient governments use foreign aid to increase domestic state repression that targets unarmed political dissidents.

Religious rights advocacy won’t save the Rohingya—but what will?

By: Elizabeth Shakman Hurd

To insist on the Rohingya status as a victimized religious minority while ignoring other factors cements their position as outsiders, fueling exclusionary forms ...

Human rights and the state: embracing and abandoning religion(s)

By: Peter Jacob

The debate about whether a state should be religious or secular doesn’t always affect how a society treats religious minorities.

Islamic ideals of peace and justice: are we overlooking something?

By: Hakan Altinay

Associating progressive social policies with Islam may unsettle some, yet the parallels are there and offer many possibilities.

Mexicans expect far more from the Pope than we will ever get

By: Ariadna Estévez

The Pope’s first official visit to Mexico was all talk and no action, but it was exactly what many Mexicans expected.

Partners in prayer: women's rights and religion in Morocco

By: Meriem El Haitami & Shannon Golden & James Ron
Français | العربية

Pundits say that religion and human rights are opposing forces in Morocco, especially around women’s rights. Our Human Rights Perception Polls suggest a more nuanced ...

Religion and rights in Bangladesh: maintaining a delicate balance

By: Mubin S. Khan

Bangladeshi activists work around religious elements, sometimes even collaborating with them. The rise of religious groups, however, is becoming both a challenge ...

Religion inspires in ways that international law does not

By: Abadir M. Ibrahim

Using extreme examples to justify a purely secular human rights approach does a disservice to the many religious leaders doing progressive work.

Home, for Algeria’s Jews, is elsewhere

By: Farah Souames

Intolerance towards Algerian Jews has been driven by geopolitics and history, not religion.

In Egypt, human rights need religion

By: Jack Snyder

Religious progressives are vital for Egypt’s human rights; secular groups can’t do it alone.

Secularism can sometimes undermine women’s rights

By: Emma Tomalin

Rights activists tend to identify secularism with women’s rights, but if we don’t engage with religion, we can’t effectively confront many wrong-headed policies ...

UN strategy to combat religious intolerance - is it fit for purpose?

By: Marc Limon & Nazila Ghanea & Hilary Power
Español | العربية

As religious intolerance and discrimination increase, is the UN’s current strategic response – as set out in a Human Rights Council resolution and related plans ...

Women’s rights in Tunisia: promising future or religio-political game?

By: Elsy Melkonian
Français | العربية

Women in Tunisia have long enjoyed rights that are very clear on paper. In practice, however, the government’s willingness to enforce these rights seems to depend ...

Religious conversions in India – keeping human rights at the core

By: Siddharth Peter De Souza

Religion is not only about belief but also about its capacity for human well-being. Therefore, human rights should be at the core of an individual’s right to evaluate ...

Tradition should defer to human rights, not the other way around

By: Leo Igwe

‘Traditional African ways’ is not a monolith. It has evolved over time and must evolve again to adapt to human rights. Human rights should not defer to tradition ...

What does the “right to life” really mean for Catholics in Mexico?

By: Renee De La Torre

It’s time for leaders in the Mexican Catholic Church to speak up where they are most needed.

Religion and human rights - partnership with a dose of pragmatism

By: Adem Kassie Abebe

Religion and human rights need not be completely divorced, or work hand-in-hand all the time. A case-by-case approach, taking into account the realities on the ...

Religion as a political game: rising intolerance in Indonesia

By: Ahmad Sueady

Indonesia’s rising religious intolerance stems from a political pact struck between former president Bambang Yudhoyono and the country’s least tolerant Muslim groups. ...

To end manual scavenging in India, Hindu religious leaders must speak up

By: Seema Guha

In India, Hindu religious leaders are reluctant to campaign loudly against the collection of raw sewage by oppressed communities, and this is slowing progress in ...

Indonesia’s growing religious intolerance

By: Phelim Kine

Although Indonesia has long been seen as a religiously moderate country, Sunni Muslim militants are attacking minority religious communities across the country. ...

Filling the gap: why prayer camps in Ghana are sometimes the only option

By: Abamfo Ofori Atiemo

Human Rights Watch’s scathing critique of Ghana’s prayer camps misses the point. For many people struggling with mental illness and social stigmatization, the camps ...

Does “religious freedom” include the right to convert or scam others?

By: José Zalaquett

Does freedom of religion include the right to convert others, or pressure them into giving money?

The (in)human dimension of Ghana’s prayer camps

By: Shantha Rau Barriga

Ambamfo Ofori Atiemo says that prayer camps in Ghana deserve a closer look, as they are a supposedly compassionate, faith-based response to mental disability. Human ...

Should it matter how the mass is mobilized?

By: Kechi Nomu

On the streets of Nigeria, what seems like the “voice of the people” is often just unquestioning followers, echoing the opinions of religious leaders. The human ...

Preaching for human rights

By: Beatrice Lamwaka

Human rights advocates must take their message to street corners, like preachers, and teach the people love for everyone, irrespective of race, tribe and sexual ...

What do Muslim women want? Finding women’s rights in Islam

By: Xaviera Medina

The Koran proclaims equality between the sexes but also clearly indicates male superiority. In the fight for women’s rights in Islamic societies, how do human rights ...

Myth and reality: the Catholic Church and human rights in Latin America

By: Ariadna Estévez

While the progressive Catholic Church is on the frontline of defending human rights in Latin American, its conservative branch still attacks reproductive rights ...

Pentecostal Christianity: retrogressive force or dynamic ally?

By: Richard L. Wood
Español | Français

Pentecostal Christianity is one of the fastest growing religious forces in the world. Although many secular human rights activists view Pentecostalism as retrogressive, ...

For human rights, religious interpretation matters most

By: Iyad Barghouthi

Religious interpretation is what counts. This explains why Pakistanis vote for female leaders, while Saudi Arabia bans women drivers.

Whose faith wins? Keeping religion out of the law

By: Geraldyn Ezeakile

Religion may help to control behavior and justify human worth and dignity, but in Nigeria, the co-existence of Sharia law with English Common Law has had serious ...

Arguing like Abraham for Gaza’s innocents

By: Rabbi Arik Ascherman
العربية | עברית | Türkçe

Most Israeli Jews support the Gaza war, but the justice of self-defense has created a spiritual myopia among my people. As community and religious leaders, we rabbis ...

Occu-Kashrut and ethical Jewish consumerism

By: Louis Frankenthaler

For some, a boycott of products made in Israeli settlements - Occu-Kashrut - is an ethically motivated act of Jewish religious practice. As a result, Israel’s ...

Let’s talk about religion

By: Meghan L. Morris

Many human rights advocates work with people and/or communities who believe in a God or gods, but few are actually talking about the specifics of those beliefs. ...

The real power of rights is not religion

By: Michael Bochenek

It’s not useful to debate whether human rights derive from religion or to include religious leaders only as token voices. What we need are authentic alliances with ...

In Africa, human rights and religion often go together

By: Abamfo Ofori Atiemo

In Africa and other regions in the global South, religion and human rights support similar values. For years, religion has helped disenfranchised groups the way ...

No human rights without God

By: Daniel Philpott

Human rights need God because three ingredients are critical to their validity: universal moral norms, human dignity, and their “trump card” status. These ingredients ...

Faith in rights: ethics of the public square

By: Amyn B. Sajoo

Human rights cannot thrive globally without the support of pluralist religious theologies that are in tune with public culture. In Muslim settings, this means that ...

Starting at the top: why rights groups need to engage religious leaders

By: Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr 

For human rights to find resonance in the global South, we must connect them to the existing beliefs of the people by engaging religious leaders. Without this cultural ...

The politicization of Hindu faith in India

By: Fr. Cedric Prakash Sj
Español | Français | العربية

Hinduism preaches tolerance, the Indian Constitution enshrines plurality. So why has divisive political communalism become acceptable, even electable, when disguised ...

The paradox of religion and rights

By: Jeremy Carrette

While religion is foundational to human rights, it is also problematic. Broad concepts of religion often obscure identity and hide an imperialistic organization ...

In Israel, Rabbis for Human Rights address painful paradoxes

By: Rabbi Arik Ascherman
Español | Français | العربية | עברית

In a world where so much blood is shed for religion, Rabbis for Human Rights believes that the Jewish faith must be a force for human rights.

Muslim NGOs, aid, and human rights

By: Marie Juul Petersen 
Español | Français | العربية

Drawing on studies of Muslim aid organisations in Britain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Bangladesh, the author explores how these organisations do and don’t ...

Religion as a human rights liability

By: Nida Kirmani 
Español | اردو | العربية

lthough many human rights movements have religious underpinnings, explicitly linking religion to human rights can lead to the exclusion and persecution of minority ...

Human rights abuse in Burma and the role of Buddhist nationalism

By: Wai Yan Phone 
ภาษาไทย | မြန်မာဘာသာ

Myanmar is taking significant strides towards political and economic liberalization after decades of military dictatorship, yet a series of violent attacks against ...

The rights in Hinduism

By: Arvind Sharma 
Español | العربية

Contrary to popular perception, Hindu philosophies of moral agency, duty and universal truth cohabit with human rights values.

Islamic and UN Bills of Rights: same difference

By: Muhtari Aminu-Kano & Ayaz Ali & Atallah Fitzgibbon
Français | Español | العربية

Despite tension between western notions of individual freedom and Muslim tenets of communal responsibility, there is much common ground to be found in the fight ...

Human rights must get religion

By: Larry Cox
Français | Español | العربية

Many human rights activists are secular and view religion as a problem, rather than as an ally. Although religion does often pose serious challenges, it also offers ...

On a wing and a prayer: can religion revive the rights movement?

By: Jack Snyder
Español | Français | العربية

Normative frameworks in the Global South are largely religious, making it difficult for the secular human rights movement to penetrate these societies. Religious ...

Faith and health care in Africa: a complex reality

By: Jill Olivier
Français | العربية

It’s time to move past overly simplistic arguments surrounding Catholics and condoms, and make an effort to understand the real and very complex contributions of ...

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