Frequently Asked Questions

What is a UN Member State?

A United Nations Member State is one of 193 sovereign countries that are members of the United Nations and have equal representation in the UN General Assembly. The UN is the world’s largest intergovernmental organization. Membership in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, “is open to all peace-loving States” that accept the obligations contained in the United Nations Charter, the founding document of the UN. [1]


In addition to the Member States, there are two non-member permanent observer states: the Holy See (Vatican) and the State of Palestine that participate in UN proceedings, but do not have voting power.

What is a UN Special Rapporteur?

A UN Special Rapporteur is an individual human rights expert appointed by the Human Rights Council who holds a mandate to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. Special Rapporteurs are not United Nations staff members and do not receive financial  remuneration. The independent status of the Special Rapporteurs is crucial for them to be able to fulfil their functions in all impartiality. A mandate-holder’s tenure in a given function, whether it is a thematic or country mandate, is limited to a maximum of six years. [2]


Special Rapporteurs undertake country visits, act on individual cases of alleged violations, convene expert consultations, consult with governments, relevant international organizations and non-governmental organizations, engage in advocacy and raise public awareness. Special Rapporteurs report annually to the Human Rights Council and the majority of the mandates also report to the General Assembly. Including the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief, there are currently 44 thematic and 12 country mandates. [3]

What authority does a UN Special Rapporteur have?

While Special Rapporteurs carry out country visits to analyze human rights issues at the national level, their findings and recommendations carry no legal weight. However, these observations are officially documented in their annual reports to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly and are often cited by third parties as though they are authoritative, contributing to the creation of customary international law. This “soft law” can be very dangerous and can lead to implementation of policies that are damaging to the family and the health and innocence of children.

What is a Special Rapporteur’s report?

Each Special Rapporteur submits an annual report to the Human Rights Council that summarizes their activities, documents input received from consultations and provides recommendations regarding their mandate. The report is then typically presented to the Third Committee of the UN Economic and Social Council and then the UN General Assembly where Member States have the opportunity to ask questions of the Special Rapporteur or make comments on the findings

What does the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief do?

According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief has been invited to identify existing and emerging obstacles to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief and present recommendations on ways and means to overcome such obstacles.


The Special Rapporteur has been mandated:

  • to promote the adoption of measures at the national, regional and international levels to ensure the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief;
  • to identify existing and emerging obstacles to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief and present recommendations on ways and means to overcome such obstacles;
  • to continue her/his efforts to examine incidents and governmental actions that are incompatible with the provisions of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief and to recommend remedial measures as appropriate;
  • to continue to apply a gender perspective, among other things, through the identification of gender-specific abuses, in the reporting process, including in information collection and in recommendations.

In addition, the Special Rapporteur:

  • transmits communications to States with regard to cases that represent infringements of or impediments to the exercise of the right to freedom of religion and belief;
  • undertakes fact-finding country visits , prepares and presents the report of the visits;
  • submit and presents annual reports to the Human Rights Council and General Assembly, on the activities, trends of issues and methods of work. [4]

How will this Special Rapporteur’s report affect me and my family?

The recommendations in the Special Rapporteur’s report, while not legally binding, can contribute to customary international law (“soft” law) and can still find their way into the creation of national and local policies worldwide that can undermine the family and harm children.

What does signing this petition do?

Signing this petition is a way of adding your voice to thousands of others and letting the UN know that many, many people are in opposition to the observations and recommendations in the Special Rapporteur’s report. Since the petition will be sent to the ambassadors of 193 UN Member States, it will put them on alert and raise awareness of the egregious report and help discredit it. There is strength in numbers! The more people who sign it, the better.

Can signing this petition make a difference?

Several years ago, we helped rally governments against a horrible report by the Special Rapporteur on the right to education. (See FWI’s Policy Brief on this report here.) Because of the increased awareness of his report, many UN Member States, in fact, the majority rejected the report when it came before the General Assembly. We would like a repeat of that with this report.

What does the report say about abortion?

The report falsely claims that:

  • “Partial or total bans on access to abortion,” violate sexual and reproductive rights,
  • Laws protecting the unborn from abortion in sub Saharan Africa that are “maintained, in part, owing to pressure from certain religious groups” violate sexual and reproductive rights,
  • A provision in the Philippines constitution requiring the state to “equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from [the time of] contraception.” constitutes discrimination,
  • “Conscience clauses” in the laws of Poland, USA, and Kenya that protect health workers from being forced to perform abortions against their religious beliefs constitute discrimination.

What is a conscience clause?

Conscience protections apply to health care providers who refuse to perform, accommodate, or assist with certain health care services on religious or moral grounds. [5]


In the U.S., for example, federal statutes protect health care provider conscience rights and prohibit recipients of certain federal funds from discriminating against health care providers who refuse to participate in these services based on moral objections or religious beliefs.


Conscience protections are most often applied in the context of abortion but can also exist with regard to assisted suicide or euthanasia, or reproductive interventions for LGBT individuals.

What does the report say about LGBT issues?

The report falsely claims that:

  • “Prohibition of homosexuality” violates international human rights law,
  • Laws prohibiting same-sex marriage or that prohibit the “self-determination rights of transgender persons … in the health system” [i.e., hormone treatments and cross-gender surgeries for gender-confused individuals] justified “on religious grounds” also violate international human rights law,
  • Bans on gender reassignment surgery violate sexual and reproductive rights,
  • The actions of “religious groups” in Uganda which “have successfully campaigned against the introduction of schoolbooks on sex education” because the “books promoted homosexuality” constitute gender-based violence and discrimination,
  • The actions of therapists who provide change therapy for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or gender nonconforming persons” constitutes gender-based violence by non-state actors,
  • The term “sex” in binding treaties encompasses sexual orientation and gender identities including “trans status,”
  • States’ obligation “to ensure gender equality … extends beyond the public realm and into areas of religious life,” to prevent discrimination against “sexual or gender identity minorities.”
  • States must end religious practices that violate “human rights” which encompass LGBT+ “rights.”
  • Laws “enacted with reference to religious consideration…” that regulate behavior based on “actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or expression” should be repealed.

What does the report say about sexuality education?

The report falsely claims that:

  • Limits on sexuality education due to the encouragement of “religious figures” violate sexual and reproductive rights.

What does the report say about the family?

The report falsely claims that:

  • The actions of Polish “religious interest groups,” which have attempted to define ‘the family’ “according to religiously grounded heterosexual norms” constitutes gender-based violence and discrimination.

What else does the report say?

The report falsely claims that:

  • Laws “enacted with reference to religious consideration …” that “criminalize adultery” should be repealed,
  • In the same way “international law protects the right of persons to exit a religious or belief community,” international law “may also recognize the right of those persons to take part on an equal basis in the process of defining that community,”
  • Countries must “withdraw reservations to core human rights treaties” if they are based on “religious considerations,”
  • “States should ensure the right … to health, including reproductive health, for … adolescents and LGBT+ persons and effective access to reproductive health services and comprehensive sexuality education, in line with international standards,”
  • Member States should develop “human rights education and training for religious leaders.”

[1] Chapter II, Article 4 of the UN Charter.