The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that the freedom of religion is a human right. Unfortunately, however, many people would argue that religion encourages practices that, in a modern society, are considered to be an abuse of human rights. This abuse takes many facets ranging from the perception that restricting so-called blasphemy is a violation of the fundamental right to free speech; to religion’s notoriously bad treatment of certain parts of society. Religion can be linked to many violations of human rights. Here is a number of examples which delegates could tackle in debate:

LGBT RightsEdit

The three main Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam), in their orthodox forms, prohibit homosexuality. It is not necessary to point out that this is a major violation of human rights. Religious groups are often responsible for homophobic attacks. Also, four of the five countries that employ the death penalty for the “crime” of homosexuality are Muslim theocracies that abide, at least partially, by Sharia law. Many would argue that these punishments are an extreme violation of human rights and would not exist were it not for the Qur’an prohibiting homosexuality. There is widespread discrimination in southern states of the USA against homosexuals. It is largely believed that if religion did not exist, homophobia would be significantly reduced, if not eliminated.

Religious Clothing for Women onlyEdit

The Qur’an requires women to cover their bodies from head to toe and only allows them to have their hands and faces uncovered. Some more extreme interpretations require nothing but the eyes to be visible. Examples of the types of clothing are the Burkha, for the whole body and head, and the Hijab, for the head and face. This is considered to be discriminatory, as men are only required to cover themselves from their naval to their knees. It is widely argued that such clothing is a symbol of men’s dominance over women and not a representation of gender equality.


Religions generally frown upon contraception and almost all ban its use outside of marriage. The Roman Catholic Church and Judaism have a particularly strong ban on the use of condoms. With Sexually Transmitted Infections such as HIV being widespread in the modern era, many argue that failure to use a condom is irresponsible and potentially very dangerous. For reducing the spread of HIV, experts argue that the use of condoms is most crucial outside of marriage or long term relationships. However, many religious followers believe they must abide by religious law. This leads to a greatly increased risk to their health. Many agree that something needs to be done to protect the safety of those who follow a religion as they are being endangered. It has been suggested that this is one the many instances when religion has become outdated.


Abortion is currently one of the most controversial human rights issues, especially when religious beliefs are factored in. Christianity is one of the most Pro-life forms of religion with some factions banning abortion without exception including cases of rape or risk of maternal mortality. This is conserved to be a gross violation of a woman’s human rights. Islam and Judaism and more liberal strains of Christianity generally allow abortion in the case of protection of the mother.

Sharia LawEdit

Sharia Law is a legal system based on the Qur’an. The Taliban notoriously govern using Sharia Law, often going to extreme violations of human rights to punish someone or obtain a confession. In some of the worst cases women have been stoned to death for allowing themselves to be raped. Under Sharia Law, a woman must have four male witnesses of rape for her not to be convicted of adultery. In Yemen, compensation was demanded from a ten year old child bride when she requested a divorce from her abusive, rapist, adult husband. Sharia Law declares that the legal age of marriage is the age of sexual maturation. In contrast to women, men must only repeat the Arabic phrase for “I divorce you” three times to obtain a divorce. Here are some examples of punishments for certain crimes under Sharia Law;

  • Theft may be punished by the amputation of hands or feet
  • Adultery is punished by stoning to death
  • Apostasy (not believing in Allah or burning the Qur’an for example) is punished by execution. Apostasy is a thought crime therefore punishing for it is a blatant violation of UDHR.

Honour KillingsEdit

Honour killing is one of the most blatant and deplorable violations of human rights, particularly women’s rights, witnessed in our society today. In many countries, family members are horrified to hear that their loved ones have been sentenced to death; in other countries, family members not only sentence their loved ones to death, but also carry out the horrific act. All supposedly done to preserve ‘honour’.

What are honour killings?Edit

Honour killings are defined by Human Rights Watch as: “Murder committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought “dishonour” upon the family”.

A woman may be killed for several reasons. These include refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, seeking a divorce from her husband (irrespective of whether he is abusive or not), being the victim of a sexual assault or being accused of committing adultery. Other motives can include dressing in a way that is deemed unacceptable by one’s family or engaging in certain sexual acts.

Honour killing are endemic in cultures where women are perceived to be possessions of male relatives. Although it is most prominent in Muslim societies, Islam does not condone honour killing but has been falsely interpreted to do so. Honour killing are much more of a cultural illness than a religious one.

In which countries do honour killings take place?Edit

The vast majority of honour killing take place in predominately Muslim countries, throughout the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. Cases in Europe have also increased among Muslim migrant communities, including numerous cases in the UK. There have also been two highly publicised cases of honour killings in the USA. Unfortunately, there are a number of countries, where legislation either allows honour killings or suggest reduced punishments when a crime is in the name of honour.

Countries where the Perpetrators of honour killings either receive significantly reduced sentences or are even acquitted include: Argentina, Ecuador, Egypt, Guatemala, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Peru, Syria, Venezuela and Palestine.

Countries where men are allowed to kill a female relative in ‘Flagrante Delicto’ (caught in the act of “dishonouring her family”) include: Syria and Morocco as well as over 60 other Middle Eastern, Latin America and South Asian countries.

Countries where honour killings are not legal but take place fairly regularly include: Turkey, Iraq (Kurdistan), Pakistan, Egypt.

Country Case Study: JordanEdit

The Jordanian Penal Code as it stands seems to condone honour killings and is frequently interpreted in this way. Article 340 reads: "he who discovers his wife or one of his female relatives committing adultery and kills, wounds, or injures one of them, is exempted from any penalty."

Article 98 specifies that a murderer be subjected to a reduced sentence if they killed their victim in a ‘fit of fury’.

Article 340 contradicts Article 6 of the Jordanian Constitution, which guarantees the rights of all Jordanian citizens regardless of their gender.

Jordanian parliamentarian Mohammed Kharabsheh was recorded as saying “Women adulterers cause a great threat to our society because they are the main reason that such acts take place”.

How prolific are honour killings?Edit

It is estimated that up to 5,000 people a year, may fall victim to honour killings according to the United Nations Population Fund. However, it is very difficult to know for certain as recording deaths correctly, or at all, is difficult to ensure. It is a cultural practice that migrants are taking with them around the world, thus increasing the number of countries in which honour killings take place.

Case Study: VictimsEdit

3 teenage girls were shot and then buried alive in a remote part of Pakistan by their tribe after they tried to choose their own husbands. Du’a Khalil Aswad, an Iraqi Kurd was stoned to death in 2007 for trying to have an Iraqi Sunni boyfriend. She was dragged to the town square where people threw rocks at her head and body whilst others filmed the murder on mobile phones, later putting videos on the Internet. Her dead body was buried with a dog, apparently to symbolise her worthlessness.

Rand Abdel-Qader, a 17 year old Basra University student, was killed by her father in 2007 for forming a relationship with a British Soldier, who she met whilst doing volunteer work. Her father, a former Government official stamped on her head, choked her and stabbed her and whilst her brothers helped him. Local police interviewed him for two hours before releasing him and apparently congratulating him.

Issues with tackling the problem of honour killingsEdit

Although in many countries honour killings occur illegally, incidents are often overlooked by the authorities. This is often because the local police actually unofficially condone honour killings as they have the same cultural values as the perpetrators. Pakistani authorities are notoriously bad at ignoring deaths in suspicious circumstances. In many countries, honour killing victims are often officially recorded as having deceased by suicide or accident.

Another serious hindrance to solving the issue of honour killings is the relatively recent phenomenon of forced honour suicides. This is where relatives pressure a family member, almost always female, into committing suicide in order to avoid them having to murder her in an honour killing and thus escape any penalties for this crime. It is exceptionally difficult to prove that a victim was pressured into committing suicide. Forced honour Suicides are prevalent in Turkey where honour killings are completely illegal.

Finally, it is very difficult to resolve the matter of honour killings due to numerous factors including but not limited to the lack of and poor quality of statistics, lack of public exposure and the conservative nature of people involved with the ‘honour’ culture. It is also extremely difficult for women to speak out in societies that have an intrinsic oppression of women.

Past and current work by the UN in relation to honour killingsEdit

The UN United Nations General Assembly has passed a number of resolutions relating specifically to crime in the name of honour. The UN sent a special reporter, Yakin Erturk, to investigate violence against women around the world. She dedicated a specific amount of her work to looking into honour killings and forced honour suicides. Honour killings violate the most fundamental UN human rights declarations.

What should delegates do?Edit

As the Human Rights Council, you must, primarily, find a way of protecting the human rights of those affected by religion. You must also try to find a long term solution for the incessant conflict between human rights and orthodox religion. Delegates should research their countries religious affiliation (if any) and attitudes towards religion and find a way for religion and human rights to exist as harmoniously as possible. Delegates should research some (or all) of the above topics and any other issues where religion seems to infringe upon human rights and try to find innovative ways of tackling the subtle and complex issue at hand.

Useful Websites:Edit

UNFPA Wikipedia Human Rights Watch Amnesty International Gendercide BBC Ethics

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