Speech “Multiculturalism theory and practice: Rule of Law, religious freedom and minority rights”


September, 29-30, 2016

V Baku International Humanitarian Forum

Let me first of all express my deepest appreciation to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Elmar Mammadyarov for the opportunity to attend this  Conference. I would like to congratulate the Government of the Republic of Azerbaijan for an initiative which, especially this year in conjunction with United Nations  Summit on Refugees, shows how forsighted has been Baku decision to exert on this matter, over recent yers, a true leadership within the international community, by promoting a constructive narrative on humanitarian issues, and enhancing multilateral cooperation.

This conference is the opportunity to honor humanitarians who have lost their lives to aid and protect those in need, and to recognize the platoons of volunteers who brave violence and hardship to protect destitute people.

I believe that  in a dramatic phase of world’s history marked with horrifying crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansig, mass murders and terrorism, we should focus on the root causes of conflicts. We should raise our voice and denounce the reasons why people are driven from their homes more than at any time in history; why combatants flout even the most fundamental rules of humanity, decency and international humanitarian law by targeting civilians ,hindering aid deliveries, killing children, raping and enslaving women.

A widespread perception exists that the respect of the Rule of Law and compliance with international norms are yilding ground to the unilateral use of force and “faits accomplis”. When we consider many cases where potential crises have developed in open conflicts we always see a background made of: infringements of the Rule of Law; violations of human rights , especially those pertaining to religious freedoms; disregard of legal mechanisms that are available at both European and international levels for the implementation of minority rights standards.


The idea of multiculturalism – first and foremost- is about how to understand and respond to the challenges associated with cultural and religious diversity, and how to implemet minority rights. The biggest challenge to multiculturalism is not only a political retreat or even backlash against immigrant multiculturalism in Western countries; it is indeed the recent experience of failed States as they are increasingly unable to guarantee a successful coexistence among all cultural, religious and ethnic group which have are part of their societies and their national project. Re-building failed States – and preventing that other States may follow suit – entail enormous efforts in expanding the realm of the Rule of Law, religious freedoms and minority rights.


Some have diagnosed a “retreat” from multiculturalism due to a lack of public support for policies still unable to foster integration of minorities .To better understand what “multicultural” means, we should remember that as a descriptive term it characterizes the diversity in a society. But in its prescriptive use it belongs to the context of liberal democraticies, with a variety of claims which allow minorities to maintain their distinctive collective identities and practices. Defenders of multiculturalism reject the ideal of a “melting pot” in which members of minority groups are expected to assimilate into the dominant culture.


Modern states are organized around the language and cultural norms of the dominant groups that have historically constituted them, while members of minorities face barriers in pursuing their social practices in ways that members of dominant groups do not.


Some theorists argue for tolerating minority groups by leaving them free of state interference. Others argue that mere toleration of differences falls short of treating minority members as equals. What is required is recognition and positive “accommodation” of minority group practices through “group-differentiated rights”. Such is the case of individuals who are granted exemptions from generally applicable laws in virtue of their religious beliefs or individuals who seek language accommodations in education and in voting.


A major criticism of multiculturalism is aimed at “theories of accommodation” . This criticism stems from the value of freedom of association and conscience and focuses mainly on individual rights.

Another challenge views multiculturalism as a form of “politics of recognition” – seeking only symbolic changes – that diverts attention from a “politics of redistribution” addressing economic inequality and exploitation.


A fourth objection takes issue with the understanding of what equality requires.  A universalist ideal of equality clashes with the group-differentiated ideal of equality . Some argue that religious and cultural minorities should be held responsible for bearing the consequences of their own beliefs and practices, just as members of the dominant culture are held responsible for bearing the consequences of their beliefs. While special “accommodations” should be owed to people with disabilities, religious and cultural affiliations-it is argued- are a different  matter. A physical disability supports a strong prima facie claim to compensation because it limits a person’s opportunities to engage in activities that others are able to engage in. In contrast, religion and culture may shape one’s willingness to seize an opportunity, but they do not affect whether one has an opportunity. According to this theory, egalitarian justice should only be concerned with ensuring a reasonable range of equal opportunities.


The different theories of multiculturalism aim at fairer terms of inclusion into mainstream society for religious and cultural minorities. However, the recent practice has been quite different. Even before the dramatic wave of home grown terrorism and radicalization, the appeal of multiculturalism seemed to be losing traction for many governments and public opinions.


In 2011 Prime Minister David Cameron’s even said: “Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream. We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they [young Muslims] feel they want to belong” . According to Cameron, as for many others , multiculturalism stands for separation and division, not integration and unity.


All this should in my opinion been taken into account. Devising new and effective approaches to overcame the present difficulties will require enormous efforts and time. A more pragmatic line of action could be anchored to the existing policy and legal instruments which have been agreed at the multilateral level, especially by the EU, the Osce and the Council of Europe.

Two main set of principles and legal instruments should be brought into the picture:


  1. A) The EU Guidelines on Freedom of Religion and Belief (FORB); The right to freedom of religion or belief is enshrined in many global and regional rights instruments as well as, to varying degrees, in the constitutions or basic laws of most countries. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) defines FoRB as follows:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

FoRB offers equal protection to people of all faiths and beliefs. States are bound by international and human rights law to uphold Article 18 of the UDHR and also of the ICCPR if they have signed and ratified it. A fundamental characteristic of both is the principle of non-discrimination. The principle of non-discrimination emphasises the fact that individuals are entitled to full enjoyment of human rights irrespective of their religion or belief. There the state has a primary responsibility to respect, protect and promote rights of all individuals. Although international and human rights law is primarily concerned with the responsibility a state has to its citizens, the state also has a duty to make sure that non-state actors are prosecuted for crimes they commit.

It is clear, however, that this right is increasingly under attack through the actions of states, non-state actors or both. A Pew Forum did conclude in a report published in February 2015 that no less than three quarters of the world’s population lives in countries with high or very high restrictions on religion, with this proportion trending upwards. Open Doors (OD) which publishes annual rankings of countries found that among religious group worldwide Christians are persecuted the most. The organisation also documented evidence of year-on-year increasing discrimination and persecution. The Freedom of Thought report from the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) found that “non-religious people are being targeted by hate campaigns around the world” and suggests an increase in violence.

More worrying concerns are that some countries continue to deny the universality of FoRB. In fact, in recent years an increasing number of countries seem to identify with one specific religion or belief, in spite of inclusive language enshrined in their legislation. This trend is particularly visible in parts of Asia, Africa and Easter (non-EU) Europe. A second concern is the rise of non-state actors such as Islamic extremist groups with territorial ambitions such as Boko Haram and ISIL/Da’esh. Some of these groups have boldly used the void left by retreating central government in failed states or are indeed now among the main reasons why some states, or parts of states, “fail”.

In this context of general deterioration, it took the European Union quite long to come up with its Guidelines on the promotion and protection of Freedom of Religion or Belief (EU Guidelines on FoRB). However, the Guidelines are a significant milestone and show awareness within the EU that:

  • FoRB is an important right that deserves protection besides for example labour rights, women’s rights or media freedom;
  • FoRB violations are increasing in many regions of the world, including sometimes as part of campaigns to intimidate or drive out certain faith or belief groups;
  • the promotion and protection of FoRB is an important foreign policy objective and its correlates with other human rights as the well-functioning of a democracy and the rule of law.


The Guidelines acknowledge that the “free exercise [of FoRB] directly contributes to democracy, development, rule of law, peace and stability.” However the ongoing implementation of the Guidelines and the hesitant deployment of other policy tools need to be underlined and require enhanced efforts and engagement.


  1. B) The Osce norms and mechanisms concerning national minorities..The High Commissioner for national minorities is“an instrument of conflict prevention at the earliest possible stage.” That means: containing and de-escalating tensions involving national minorities within the OSCE area and alerting the Organization to risks; providing early warning and early action where a situation has the potential to turn into a conflict, as it happened in important cases , such as the two formal “early warnings” issued for Macedonia in 1999 and Kyrgyzstan in 2010.


More recently, the High Commissioner has dealt with human rights violations in Crimea, since the peninsula was annexed by the Russian Federation. Mrs. Thors has been seized with ongoing violations of the rights of Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians. She reiterated her need to have full access to Crimea in line with her mandate,to pay attention to inclusivity and respect for diversity, to consult with all linguistic and ethnic communities and to find balanced solutions that support long-term stability.


The role of the High Commissioner for national minorities – which does not require the approval of the Permanent Council or of the state concerned and acts independently- proves that the OSCE system and the “acquis” of the Charter of Paris for a New Europe of November 1990 provide ample ground to prevent and resolve controversies over national minorities: they are a fundamental pillar of the Rule of Law in international relations and should activated properly instead of embarking in- and taking alla the responsabilities of- disruptive actions of force and policies of “fait accompli” .


I have raised here two aspects – religious freedom and  minority rights- to be considered in my opinion at the core of a debate on multiculturalism, because they are essential to a the full implementation of the Rule of Law in our societies and in the international order.


The UN defines the Rule of Law as a principle of governace in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.


A Global Committee for the Rule of Law, that I have the honour to chair, with Matteo Angioli as Secretary General, has been fouded in March 2016 by Marco Pannella, leader of the Nonviolent Radical Party Transnational § Transparty. Prominent international personalities have joined the GCRL as Board Honorary Members.

The aim of the Global Committee for the Rule of Law is to tackle the erosion of the Rule of Law affecting many countries in the world and to promote the full affirmetion of human rights worldwide, in continuity with the work Marco Pannella had devoted his entire life to. The GCRL advocates the recognition of the right to know as a core element of the Rule of Law. En ecosysteme of accountability instruments affecting all stages of the decision-makin process, and capable of guaranteeing the same rights to alla citizens and ensuring that their freedoms and rights are effectively protected.


The human right to know is the right of the rights. It is the fundamental right, it comes before every other right, even before the right to happiness, because it is the one right that states the necessity to know how and why governments on various degrees take those decisions that influence the lives of the citizens, their human rights and their civil liberties.

It is because it’s a right that focuses the attention on a fundamental agreement, the one between citizens and those who govern them.

I wish to all participants at this Forum to contribute individually and as prominent actors in their respective societies to a fuller implementation of the Rule of Law and to an ever accrued awareness of the principle concerning the Right to know within the international community.


©2024 Giulio Terzi

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