Baha'i International Community mourns passing of human rights expert

January 8, 2012
Dr. Abdelfattah Amor, 1943-2012. Photo: FIDH.

GENEVA, Switzerland — The Baha'i International Community has expressed its condolences over the passing of noted human rights lawyer and Tunisian jurist Abdelfattah Amor.

Professor Amor – who has died at the age of 68 after suffering a heart attack – was best known internationally for his 11 years of service as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, from 1993 to 2004.

"As the Special Rapporteur, Professor Amor was among the world's foremost defenders of the right to freedom of religion or belief," said Diane Ala'i, the representative of the Baha'i International Community to the UN in Geneva.

"He bravely spoke out on behalf of individuals and groups around the world who faced religious discrimination, regardless of the political consequences," she said.

In 1995, Dr. Amor visited Iran – among the few UN human rights investigators to do so – and subsequently issued a ground-breaking report that cataloged that country's widespread discrimination against religious minorities, including members of the Baha'i Faith.

A Muslim, Dr. Amor boldly pointed out the degree to which Iran had failed to live up to international human rights standards regarding freedom of religion or belief.

"His report relied on detailed interviews and careful legal analysis and is still considered a milestone in human rights reporting today," said Ms. Alai.

Among other things, for example, Dr. Amor pointed out in 1996 that individuals have the freedom to "have or adopt" a new religion, as well as to retain their own religious belief, regardless of national laws that might say otherwise, such as is the case in Iran.

In another report issued in 1997, Dr. Amor made clear that governments are not to be the arbiters of what is legitimate religion, deserving of protection under human rights law. "It is not the business of the State or any other group or community to act as the guardian of people's consciences and encourage, impose or censure any religious belief or conviction," he wrote, a statement that was seen as significant in the face of claims made by Iran about Baha'is.

"Our hearts go out to his family, to the Tunisian people, and to the human rights community everywhere, who are sure to mourn his sudden passing," said Ms. Ala'i.

Dr. Amor was born 4 March 1943 in Tunisia. After receiving a law degree in 1967, he undertook advanced legal studies in Paris. In his early career, he served as a university professor in Tunisia, serving, for example, from 1987 to 1993 as dean of the faculty of legal, political and social science at the University of Tunis.

In 1998, during his mandate as UN Special Rapporteur, he was elected to serve on the UN Human Rights Committee, where he continued to be a powerful advocate for the right to freedom of religion or belief. He was a member of the Committee at the time of his death.

In 2011, after the Tunisian Revolution, he was appointed as president of the National Commission for the Investigation of Corruption and Bribery under the regime of former Tunisian President Ben Ali.

Read more about Dr. Amor's 1995 report, here.