Freedom of Religion or Belief

Freedom of Religion or Belief

The Freedom of Religion or Belief is among the oldest and most wide-ranging OSCE commitments. It was specifically mentioned as early as the 1975 Helsinki Document, in which participating States agreed to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion. (…) Within this framework the participating States will recognize and respect the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience” (Questions Relating to Security in Europe: 1.(a) Declaration on Principles Guiding Relations between Participating States – Principle VII).

These commitments were elaborated further in para. 16 of the 1989 Vienna document, in which OSCE participating States (pS) undertook, inter alia, the following commitments: “to take effective measures to prevent and eliminate discrimination against individuals or communities on the grounds of religion or belief”, to “grant upon their request to communities of believers, practicing or prepared to practice their faith within the constitutional framework of their States, recognition of the status provided for them in their respective countries” and to “respect the right of these religious communities to establish and maintain freely accessible places of worship or assembly, organize themselves according to their own hierarchical and institutional structure, select, appoint and replace their personnel in accordance with their respective requirements and standards as well as with any freely accepted arrangement between them and their State”. Participating States also committed to “respect, inter alia, the liberty of parents to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions”.

In para. 17 of the same Document, the participating States recognized that “the exercise of the above-mentioned rights relating to the freedom of religion or belief may be subject only to such limitations as are provided by law and consistent with their obligations under international law and with their international commitments. They will ensure in their laws and regulations and in their application the full and effective exercise of the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief”.

These commitments were reiterated in later documents, including in Copenhagen 1990 (para. 9.4) and in the 2003 Maastricht document (Decisions: Decision No. 4/03 on Tolerance and Non-discrimination, para. 9) in which pS committed to “ensure and facilitate the freedom of the individual to profess and practice a religion or belief, alone or in community with others, where necessary through transparent and non-discriminatory laws, regulations, practices and policies”.

Other relevant international provisions in the area of Freedom of Religion or Belief are article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as article 12 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

The OSCE Ministerial Council has encouraged the participating States to seek the assistance of ODIHR and its Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief (Maastricht 2003, para. 9).

ODIHR and its Advisory Council of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief have drawn up Guidelines for Review of Legislation pertaining to Religion or Belief ( to assist in the process of reviewing draft legislation in the area of Freedom of Religion or Belief. These Guidelines are currently in the process of revision.


Uploaded in October 2011