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UN experts ‘concerned,’ want answers about Quebec religious symbols bill

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UN experts ‘concerned’ want answers about Quebec religious symbols bill

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Experts with the United Nations say they are concerned about Quebec’s religious symbols bill, which was tabled in March, and are asking for more information on why it is necessary and how it is non-discriminatory.

The Quebec government’s controversial secularism bill, titled An Act Respecting the Laicity of the State, prohibits public-sector employees in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols at work.

READ MORE: EMSB vows not to comply with Quebec’s proposed religious symbols ban

It affects teachers, judges, police officers, prison guards, Crown prosecutors and other public servants in what the government considers to be positions of authority.

WATCH (March 29, 2019): Quebec students studying to be teachers, police officers most affected by Bill 21





However, in a letter to the Canadian government, experts with the global organization point out that the bill does not define what religious symbols are.

READ MORE: CAQ tables controversial secularism bill, banning public employees from wearing religious symbols at work

They argue this lack of a definition could lead to potential discrimination.

“In addition, the display of religious symbols is a manifestation of religion or belief and, as such, any limitation of this freedom must be strictly defined,” the UN writes.

“We are particularly concerned with regard to the consequences for those who may be at a disadvantage or excluded from employment in a public position because of the potential effects of the proposed bill.”

WATCH: Bill 21 hearings hear from Montreal mayor, English school boards





Without proper explanation, the UN noted that the bill “may affect the freedom of conscience and religion and the principles of equality set out in articles 18 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Article 18 of that covenant states: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

READ MORE: Quebec English school group denounces Bill 21 as ‘unethical, unnecessary’ ahead of public testimony

Article 26 states: “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law.

“In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

READ MORE: Montreal will not be exempt from Bill 21 — Premier Legault

Concerns over discrimination against certain religious minorities

The UN says it is also concerned about a provision in the bill that requires a person’s face to be uncovered to receive social services as it affects “certain religious minorities, constitutes discrimination and could lead to the violation of fundamental rights such as rights to health or education.”

WATCH (April 16, 2019): Lionel Perez rejects Quebec’s religious symbols bill





According to the UN, the current bill would violate the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which Canada ratified in 1970. Since “religion often intertwines with racial and ethnic affiliations, these legal provisions may have a discriminatory and disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic groups,” the letter states.

READ MORE: Quebec trying to ‘limit debate’ during secularism bill hearings — religious groups

The letter also argues the current bill does not indicate how prohibiting certain officials from wearing symbols of their religion is necessary to protect security, order, public health or morals or fundamental rights and freedoms.

“In particular, it does not establish how the wearing of religious symbols affects the fundamental rights and freedoms of others,” the UN states.

The experts are asking the Canadian government to provide them with more information about the proposed law and to explain the specific measures in place that protect freedom of religion as well as the particular policies that protect religious minorities and guarantee non-discrimination at the various levels of government.

WATCH (April 6, 2019): Quebec immigration minister defends secularism bill





“Please indicate how the restrictions in the giving and receiving of certain services with faces uncovered are reasonable and therefore not discriminatory,” the letter states.

READ MORE: Quebec’s secularism legislation praised, condemned as public hearings get underway

The letter is signed by Fernand de Varennes, UN special rapporteur on minority issues; E. Tendayi Achiume, UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; and Ahmed Shaheed, UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

rachel.lau@globalnews.ca

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.



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FOREIGN NEWS

Catholic Bishops react to military coup in Mali

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Catholic Bishops react to military coup in Mali

Contrary to the expectations of the people, the leadership of the Episcopal Conference of Mali (CEM) has termed the Tuesday, August 18 military coup in the West African nation as “regrettable” and “a big failure for our democracy” and called for a change of mentality if the country has to put an end to coups.

In an interview with ACI Africa Wednesday, August 19, made available to RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA, the President of CEM, Bishop Jonas Dembélé said that the governance challenges the country is facing can be managed through dialogue.

“The military coup that led to the ousting of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta is regrettable because we are in a state of law and democracy. This is the second time that Mali has had a military coup as a result of the way in which the country is governed. It is a big failure for our democracy even if there were reasons for it,” Bishop Dembélé told ACI Africa.

“It is true that our country has serious challenges including bad governance, the poor management of the economy, corruption, insecurity and so on,” Bishop Dembélé said and probed, “Why is it that we Malians have not managed to engage in dialogue to be able to discuss these problems and face up to these challenges responsibly?”

“Our leaders, our people lack transparency, they hate those who speak the truth and advocate for good governance. This mentality must change for our country to move on,” the Prelate told ACI Africa August 19.

Bishop Dembélé who is a frontline member of RECOWA-CERAO urged the military officials “to ensure a return to democracy as promised but most especially ensuring the new leadership of the country put the people first and tackle the security challenges facing the nation.”

Asked about the role of the Church in the current crisis, the 57-year-old Prelate noted, “For us the Catholic Church in Mali, our role is to preach peace; our role is to preach dialogue. We shall continue in this path of dialogue for peace just like Cardinal Jean Zerbo and some religious leaders initiated.”

“In a state of law, power is not in the hands of certain individuals but to the people. The anger of our people led to this crisis, but we must work for peace and reconciliation in Mali,” Bishop Dembélé said.

He continued in recollections, “The Bishops in Mali have always issued messages before every election in our country sounding the alert and inviting the government to organize transparent elections, ensure good governance and better management of resources.”
“But it seems our messages are never taken into consideration that is why we find ourselves in this situation today,” the Local Ordinary of Kayes Diocese told ACI Africa and added, “If the opinion of the Episcopal Conference of Mali is needed to mediate in bringing back stability and peace in the country, then we are ready.”

As a way forward, the Bishop urged the people of God in Mali to “seek the path to conversion” and to accept dialogue in the spirit of truth and honesty.
“We all want change in our

country, but this change can only be possible if individually we seek the path to conversion. It is for Malians be they Muslims or Christians or members of traditional religion, to do an examination of conscience and accept personal and community conversion in order to engage in sincere dialogue,” he said.

The Malian Prelate added, “Now there is this coup d’état to demand change we really wonder where change should come from. As long as we don’t change our behavior, our mentality, we will always have a repeat of the current situation.”

On Tuesday, August 18, President Keita announced his resignation and dissolved parliament hours after mutinying soldiers detained him at gunpoint, Aljazeera reported.
“For seven years, I have with great joy and happiness tried to put this country on its feet. If today some people from the armed forces have decided to end it by their intervention, do I have a choice? I should submit to it because I do not want any blood to be shed,” President Keita said August 18 during the televised address to the nation.

Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu
RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA

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Harris accepts VP nomination

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Harris accepts VP nomination

Senator Kamala Harris formally accepted the Democratic nomination for vice president on Wednesday following a scathing speech by former President Barack Obama, who said the fate of the nation” depends entirely on the outcome of this election.”

Both Mr. Obama and Harris stressed the importance of voting, with Harris saying “we’re all in this fight together.” Harris sounded an optimistic note by highlighting her personal history and the promise of America, saying she was “so inspired by a new generation.”

“Make no mistake, the road ahead will not be not easy,” she said. “We will stumble. We may fall short. But I pledge to you that we will act boldly and deal with our challenges honestly. We will speak truths. And we will act with the same faith in you that we ask you to place in us.” She called Mr. Trump a “predator” in a speech that came after Mr. Obama issued his most forceful rebuke of his successor to date, saying Mr. Trump “hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t.”

“This president and those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism,” Mr. Obama said. “They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter.

That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.”

Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton, speaking earlier in the night, both said they had hoped Mr. Trump would rise to the occasion. But they both stressed what they called his failures while in office, with Mr. Obama saying Mr. Trump has shown “no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”

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Mali coup leaders vow to hold elections as history repeats itself

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Mali coup leaders vow to hold elections as history repeats itself

The Malian soldiers who forced President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign in a coup promised early Wednesday to organize new elections after their takeover was swiftly condemned by the international community.

In a statement carried overnight on state broadcaster ORTM, the mutinous soldiers who staged Tuesday’s military coup identified themselves as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People led by Colonel Major Ismael Wagué.

“With you, standing as one, we can restore this country to its former greatness,” Wagué said, announcing that borders were closed and that a curfew was going into effect from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m

The news of Keita’s departure was met with jubilation by anti-government demonstrators in the capital, Bamako, and alarm by former colonial ruler France and other allies and foreign nations.

The U.N. Security Council scheduled a closed meeting Wednesday August 19, 2020 afternoon to discuss the unfolding situation in Mali, where the U.N. has a 15,600-strong peacekeeping mission. Keita, who was democratically elected in a 2013 landslide and re-elected five years later, still had three years left in his term.

But his popularity had plummeted, and demonstrators began taking to the streets calling for his ouster in June.

West African regional bloc ECOWAS had sent mediators to try and negotiate a unity government but those talks fell apart when it became clear that the protesters would not accept less than Keita’s resignation.

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