Kazakhstan urged to end mandatory registration of religious communities – UN expert

The United Nations expert on religious freedom called today on the Kazakhstan Government to halt the mandatory registration of religious communities, which notably affects small groups.

During a visit to Kazakhstan – mandated by the UN Human Rights Council – Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief found religious pluralism to be a hallmark of the society “traceable far back in history and perhaps even pre-history.”

“Some of the people I talked to during my visit invoked specifically nomadic traditions of hospitality and open-mindedness when explaining the accommodation of different religious communities in Kazakhstan today,” Mr. Bielefeldt said.

However, a 2011 Law on Religious Associations requires all religious communities in Kazakhstan to obtain registration status to exercise collective religious functions.

Mr. Bielefeldt pointed out that, registering religious communities leads to legal insecurity.

“Those communities, which fail to meet the threshold set by the law or prefer not to be registered, live in legal insecurity which adversely affects their freedom of religion or belief,” he warned.

While Mr. Bielefeldt acknowledged the active role Kazakh authorities play in promoting peaceful interreligious coexistence, he added “freedom of religion or belief inherently belongs to all human beings and does not require State’s approval.”

Noting the country’s secular constitution received general approval by the population, he said that during his visit, he sometimes came across restrictive interpretations that confined freedom of religion or belief to pre-defined territorial spaces.

The Special Rapporteur recommended, “an open discussion of the meaning and implications of secularism” to help “overcome restrictive attitudes within the administration and within law-enforcement agencies.”

Mr. Bielefeldt spent 12 days in Astana, Almaty and Karaganda meeting with Government officials and agencies; religious and belief communities; and civil society organizations.

In 2015, the Special Rapporteur will present a report containing his conclusions and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.