1. The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir, carried out a mission to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland1 from 4 to 15 June 2007, at the invitation of the Government. The Special Rapporteur welcomes the fact that the Government had already issued a standing invitation to all thematic special procedures starting in March 2001.
2. The Special Rapporteur wishes to thank the authorities of the United Kingdom for the excellent cooperation extended to her before, during and after the country visit. The remarkable practical organization of official meetings made her visit intense and very fruitful. At the request of the Special Rapporteur, the Government immediately facilitated, also at short notice, in situ visits to a school, an immigration removal centre, a police station and a prison, where in each case the Special Rapporteur could freely talk with pupils and detainees.
3. During her visit, the Special Rapporteur had numerous meetings in London and several suburbs from 4 to 7 June and again from 14 to 15 June 2007. Furthermore, she travelled to Birmingham (8 June), Bradford (9 June), Glasgow (10-11 June) and Belfast (12-13 June), where she met with government officials, political leaders, legal professionals as well as representatives of religious or belief communities, members of civil society and academics.
4. The Special Rapporteur held talks with the Prime Minister, the Minister of State for Trade, Investment and Foreign Affairs, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government as well as the Chaplain General of HM Prison Service. Furthermore, she met with members of the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for Education and Skills, the Department of Communities and Local Government, the Border and Immigration Agency, the Commission for Racial Equality, the Birmingham City Council, the Bradford Metropolitan District Council Equalities Service, the Bradford Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education, Education Bradford, the Scottish Executive, Strathclyde Police Headquarters, the Glasgow City Council, the Equal Opportunities Commission Scotland, the Northern Ireland Policing Board, the Machinery of Government Division in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
5. Moreover, the Special Rapporteur met with several members of the House of Lords, the House of Commons, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. In Belfast, shehad the opportunity to talk with the Speaker to Northern Ireland Assembly as well as with members of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party, Sinn Féin, the Social Democratic Labour Party and the Ulster Unionist Party.
6. The Special Rapporteur is also grateful for the opportunity to meet with two Lords of Appeal in Ordinary (“Law Lords”) as well as with barristers and solicitors having pertinent experience in the protection of human rights. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur met with the Director of Public Prosecutions and several staff members of the Crown Prosecution Service.
7. With regard to religious communities, the Special Rapporteur talked, inter alia, with Anglicans, Baha’is, Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus, Jews, Latter-Day Saints, Muslims, Presbyterians, Seventh-day Adventists, Sikhs and Unitarians. She also had meetings with humanists and secularists. During her visit, the Special Rapporteur met with representatives of the following religious or belief communities and non-governmental organizations: Ahmadiyya Muslim Association UK, Al-Khoei Foundation, Article 19, Asylum Aid, Bail Circle, Barnabus Fund, Board of Deputies of British Jews, British Humanist Association, British Irish Rights Watch, British Organisation of Sikh Students, British Sikh Consultative Forum, British Sikh Federation, Brook, Buddhist Society, Care, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Christian Medical Fellowship, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Church of England, Church of Ireland, Church of Latter-Day Saints, Church of Scientology, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, Community Dialogue, Committee on the Administration of Justice, Community Security Trust, Consultative Council of Jewish Organisations, Corrymeela, EmbraceNI, Evangelical Alliance, Forum 18, Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism, Hindu Council UK, Hindu Forum of Britain, Humanist Society of Scotland, International Association for Religious Freedom, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Irish Council of Churches, Islamic Foundation, Islamic Human Rights Commission, Islamic Relief, Jewish-Muslim Council, Justice, Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, Liberty, Maranatha Community, Marches Secularist, Methodist Church in Ireland, Minority Rights Group, Muslim Council of Britain, Muslim-Jewish Forum, National Council of Gurdwaras, National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities, Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Scottish Churches Parliamentary Office, Scottish Interfaith Council, Secular Derby, Serbian-Orthodox Church, Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Sigrid Rausing Trust, Sikhs in England, Sufi Muslim Council, The City Circle, The Family, The Inter Faith Network for the UK, Three Faiths Forum, Union of Muslim Organisations of UK and Eire, the United Nations Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as well as UK Asian Christian Fellowship.
8. Further interlocutors included academics with specific expertise in the field of freedom of religion or belief from the universities of Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Durham, Glasgow, London, Oxford and Warwick. In addition, the Special Rapporteur met with representatives of a students’ union in London.
9. She is very grateful that the University of London’s Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICS) offered to the Special Rapporteur use of the ICS facilities for her meetings in London with members of civil society. Furthermore, she appreciated the logistical support in London by theUnited Nations Development Programme and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Finally, the Special Rapporteur would like to express her gratitude for the help provided by several individuals in facilitating joint meetings with non-governmental organizations.
10. In view of the strict word limit of country reports, the Special Rapporteur will not be able to present a complete and exhaustive picture of the situation of religions and beliefs in the United Kingdom or to provide a thorough analysis of all questions related to religion or belief. However, the Special Rapporteur intends to concentrate on selected aspects of the status of freedom of religion or belief in the United Kingdom. In particular, she will focus on sectarianism, counter-terrorism measures, religious education and collective worship, religious symbols, balancing of competing rights, provisions on offences related to religions, the definition of “religion” or “belief” as well as the vulnerable situation of women, converts, refugees and asylum-seekers.
1 The term “United Kingdom” comprises England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This report does not cover the situation in the Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies. For further information on the Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies see the Human Rights Committee’s concluding observations (CCPR/CO/73/UK; CCPR/CO/73/UKOT, paras. 22-38) and the Government’s periodic reports (CCPR/C/UKOT/99/5, paras. 100 and 156 as well as CCPR/C/GBR/6, paras. 612-626).