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What is significant here can be summarized in three points. First, after a long neglect (or low-level treatment) of religion explicitly, the UN system from the late 1970s and with the 1981 Declaration began to recognize the international significance of religion for a stable world order. Thus, during the 1990s, religion emerges explicitly in numerous international statements, gaining new and unprecedented prominence.
For instance, there was the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (1990), the Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel (1993). The Vienna Declaration and Plan of Action (1993) and the follow-up to the World Conference on Human Rights UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (1998) also gave some prominence to religion, important in light of their respective post-Yugoslavia and post-Rwanda contexts. The new prominence given to religion culminated in the Oslo Declaration on Freedom of Religion and Belief (1998). Indicated by both the 1981 Declaration and the 1998 Oslo Declaration, the notion of freedom of religion was itself extended to freedom of religion and belief to allow for a wider interpretation of worldviews.
These developments have had the effect of linking in a fairly direct way the fundamental first- and second-generation rights of "freedom of thought, conscience, and religion" to third-generation rights of human solidarity, most notably in the linking of religious intolerance to the ending of racism, xenophobia, and discrimination more broadly. For example, the 1981 Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief was followed just over a decade later by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious, and Linguistic Minorities, and the theme of unifying religious freedom with other forms of discrimination was highlighted by the World Conference Against Racism in 2001.
In this regard we need to remind ourselves that the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was approved on December 9, 1948, the day before the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Though increasingly contentious as a term, it was genocide that was on the mind of the newly formed United Nations when considering a Universal Declaration of Human Rights and when it finally made the Declaration in the form of 30 articles on December 10, 1948. Arguably, genocide defines the subsequent contours of the UN mandate in the all other areas of its operation, set to expand drastically in the coming decades, and it is genocide that is the foundational motivation behind all modern human rights legislation. In modern times this becomes highlighted through a lack of physical space, conflict over scarce resources, and the vested interests of those that share a different-often religious, ideological, or political-worldview.
We only have to look at history to see the relationship between bitter hatred of culture and the relationship between this and the excesses of violence we now call genocide. Amongst the first public acts of the Nazis in 1933 was the mass burning of books by authors and traditions hated by the Third Reich. Freedom of expression-whether religious, theological, or ideological-is being seen ever more prominently as a key barometer of an open society and a measure therefore of lived reality, that is, the politically embodied success, of all human rights discourse. Freedom of religious expression, belief, and practice are fundamental human rights that must be protected.