NSS address urges UN to call for government action on human rights

Posted: Thu, 14th Mar 2024

Religious privilege is undermining rights of UK citizens, NSS tells UN committee.

NSS address urges UN to call for government action on human rights

The National Secular Society has urged a United Nations committee to call for UK government action to ensure all human rights are equally protected.

Addressing the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva this week, NSS campaigns officer Dr Alejandro Sanchez (pictured) said "exceptional treatment of religion" is "too often" undermining the rights of citizens in the UK.

Ahead of the meeting, the NSS submitted evidence for the first time on the UK's implementation of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which is overseen by the committee.

The ICCPR is an international human rights treaty ratified by the UK in 1976.

In its speech, the NSS criticised the privileged position of religion in UK education, calling attention the UK's facilitation of religious discrimination in school admissions, and mandating of broadly Christian acts of worship in state schools.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has already told the UK government to end both of these practices.

The NSS also raised concerns about the right to freedom of expression, highlighting that blasphemy and blasphemous libel remain common law offences in Northern Ireland.

The NSS said the UK should abolish such laws and, in light of rising 'anti-blasphemy' extremism, provide robust public support to individuals and organisations accused of 'blasphemy'.

The NSS also criticised the UK's disregard for the rights of children in its presumed exemption of non-therapeutic religious and cultural genital cutting of boys from the law against wounding.

The NSS told the committee that circumcising male infants and children is "medically unnecessary" and "breaches established safeguarding norms, violates bodily autonomy, and deprives the child of a healthy erogenous tissue".

The NSS attended the 140th Session of the Human Rights Committee as a representative of UK civil society. After being briefed by UK civil society organisations, the Human Rights Committee questioned a UK government delegation on its compliance with the ICCPR.

NSS: 'Committee response to secularist case welcome'

Dr Sanchez said: "It was encouraging that members of the committee appeared receptive to our view that religious privilege is undermining human rights in the UK.

"We look forward to reading its concluding observations."

Watch Dr Sanchez's address:

What the NSS stands for

The Secular Charter outlines 10 principles that guide us as we campaign for a secular democracy which safeguards all citizens' rights to freedom of and from religion.

Tags: Collective worship, Free speech, Genital cutting, School admissions