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Defamation of Religions Versus Human Rights : A Civil Society Letter to 16th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

10 March 2011

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source: forum asia

A joint open letter of 113 NGOs urge government delegations to the 16th UN Human Rights Council Session to support the growing consensus that the concept of “defamation” or “denigration of religions” is counterproductive to global efforts to combat discrimination against religious minorities and serves to entrench repression and violence against non-believers, members of religious minorities and political dissidents.

“Defamation” and “Denigration” of Religions at the 16th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Letter from Civil Society Organizations to State Representatives

9 March 2011

Excellency,

We are writing to you to strongly urge your government to actively engage in the negotiations on the resolution on “combating defamation of religions”/”combating religious hatred and denigration of religions” at the 16th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (“the Council”) that is currently taking place. Specifically, we urge your government to vote against any resolution which refers to “defamation of religions” or similar terms such as “vilification” and “denigration” of religions and religious symbols, and support a resolution which omits such terms and focuses on freedom of expression, freedom of religion and non-discrimination in ways that properly reflect international human rights standards.

This approach would reflect the growing consensus that has emerged at the UN General Assembly and the Council over the past two years that the concept of “defamation” or “denigration of religions” is counterproductive to global efforts to combat discrimination against religious minorities and serves to entrench repression and violence against non-believers, members of religious minorities and political dissidents. As highlighted by the UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of religion or belief and contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in their Joint Statement at the Durban Review Conference in 2009, laws prohibiting “defamation of religions” and/or blasphemy are regularly relied on to justify discrimination, repression and violence against religious minorities.. There is also a growing consensus that the concept of “defamation of religions” and similar terminology undermines and distorts existing international human rights guarantees on freedom of expression, freedom of religion and non-discrimination. International human rights law does not and should not protect religions per se, but does and should protect individuals and groups from discrimination, violence and hostility on the basis of their religion. Religious beliefs, ideas and systems should not be exempt from discussion, debate or even sharp criticism, whether from internal or external commentators.

Furthermore, debates surrounding UN resolutions on “combating defamation of religions” have been amongst the most polarizing at the UN and have had the effect of stalling international cooperation on other human rights issues. It is therefore necessary that States make concerted efforts at this Council session to renegotiate the terms of the resolution on “combating defamation of religions” and forge a consensus around a resolution which reflects international human rights law- including existing language as contained in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) – and which presents a robust international response to tackling discrimination against individuals and groups on religious grounds.

Your delegation has a key role to play in the forthcoming negotiations to renegotiate the deeply-contested resolution on “combating defamation of religions”/”combating religious hatred and denigration of religions” and to realise a consensus resolution that both addresses religious discrimination and reflects international human rights standards.

In keeping with the reports of the Secretary-General on “combating defamation of religions” submitted to the 65th session of the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee and of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance submitted to the 15th session of the Council, we urge your delegation to:

Reject any reference to “defamation” or “denigration” of religions, religious symbols and persons, whether in the title or text of any proposed resolution on this issue;

Promote language which properly reflects international human rights law, in particular relevant Articles of the UDHR and ICCPR;

Reject any wording which seeks to protect religions, religious beliefs, symbols or “venerated personalities” from criticism;

Promote language that protects individual religious believers, secularists and religious minorities who face discrimination, hostility or violence because of their actual or perceived religion or beliefs or lack thereof;

Promote the full implementation of international human rights law on the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of religion and non-discrimination and the development of strategies by the Human Rights Council to promote intercultural and inter-religious dialogue.

Sincerely,

1. Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
- 2. Ain o Shalish Kendra, Bangladesh
- 3. Al Haq, Occupied Palestinian Territory
- 4. Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma)
- 5. Amnesty International
- 6. Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, Egypt
- 7. Arab Foundation for Civil Society and Human Rights Support, Egypt
- 8. Arab Organization for Human Rights, Syria
- 9. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Egypt
- 10. ARTICLE 19
- 11. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
- 12. Asian Legal Resource Centre
- 13. Association of Caribbean Media Workers
- 14. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, Egypt
- 15. Association of Independent Electronic Media
- 16. Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons
- 17. Baha’i International Community
- 18. Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Bahrain
- 19. Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha, India
- 20. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
21. The Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Cambodia
- 22. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
- 23. Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
- 24. Center for Media Studies & Peace Building
- 25. Centre for Independent Journalism
- 26. Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, Argentina
- 27. Christian Development Alternative, Bangladesh
- 28. CIVICUS, South Africa
- 29. Committees for the Defense of Democracy Freedom and Human Rights, Syria
- 30. Common Concern, India
- 31. Democracy Coalition Project, USA
- 32. Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era, Philippines
- 33. East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project
- 34. Egyptian Center for the Rights of the Child, Egypt
- 35. Egyptian Foundation for Advancement of the Childhood Condition, Egypt
- 36. Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights, Egypt
- 37. Ethiopian Freepress Journalists’ Association, Ethiopia
- 38. Fahamu Refugee Programme, United Kingdom
- 39. Freedom Forum
- 40. Freedom House
- 41. Freedom of Expression Institute
- 42. Free Media Movement
- 43. Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, Philippines
- 44. Globe International, Mongolia
- 45. Habi Center for Environmental Rights, Egypt
- 46. HRWG - Indonesia’s NGO Coalition for International Human Rights advocacy, Indonesia
- 47. Human Rights First, USA
- 48. Human Rights First Society, Saudi Arabia
- 49. Human Rights Network for Journalists
- 50. Human Rights Organization in Syria - MAF
- 51. Human Rights Watch
- 52. Human Security Alliance, Thailand
- 53. The Inclusive Development Action, Viet Nam
- 54. Index on Censorship
- 55. Indigenous People’s International Centre for Policy Research and Education (Tebtebba), Philippines
- 56. The Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (IMPARSIAL), Indonesia
- 57. INFORM Documentation Centre, Sri Lanka
- 58. INHURED International, Nepal
- 59. Initiative for Freedom of Expression
- 60. Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety
- 61. Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information
- 62. Institute of Mass Information
- 63. Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela
- 64. International Federation of Journalists
- 65. International Catholic Center of Geneva
- 66. International Movement Against All Forms of Racism and Discrimination
- 67. International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development, Indonesia
- 68. International Press Institute
- 69. Iraqi Human Rights Organization, Denmark
- 70. The Jurist Association, United Arab Emirates
- 71. Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Association, Cambodia
- 72. Kurdish Committee for Human Rights-Rased, Syria
- 73. Kurdish organization for the defense of human rights and public freedoms in Syria- DAD
- 74. Land Center for Human Rights, Egypt
- 75. Law and Society Trust, Sri Lanka
- 76. Maharat Foundation (Skills Foundation)
- 77. Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
- 78. Media Foundation for West Africa
- 79. Media Rights Agenda
- 80. Media Watch
- 81. National Commission for Justice and Peace, Pakistan
- 82. National Organization for Human Rights, Syria
- 83. Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization, Nepal
- 84. New Zealand National Refugee Network, New Zealand
- 85. Norwegian PEN
- 86. Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d’édition et de creation
- 87. Pacific Freedom Forum
- 88. Pacific Islands News Association
- 89. Partners for Law in Development, India
- 90. Partnership for Justice and Human Rights Agenda, Nigeria
- 91. Pax Romana - International Catholic Movement of Intellectual and Cultural Affairs, Switzerland
- 92. Pax Romana - International Movement of Catholic Students, France
- 93. People’s Union for Civil Liberties, India
- 94. People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, India
- 95. People’s Watch, India
- 96. Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, Philippines
- 97. Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, India
- 98. Refugee Council of Australia, Australia
- 99. Rights, India
- 100. Salmmah Women Resource Center, Sudan
- 101. SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom (Samir Kassir Eyes)
- 102. Southeast Asian Press Alliance
- 103. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), MALAYSIA
- 104. Sudan Social Development Organization
- 105. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, Philippines
- 106. Thai Committee for Refugees, Thailand
- 107. The Other Media, India
- 108. Think Centre, Singapore
- 109. Yemeni Observatory for Human Rights
- 110. West African Human Rights Defenders Project
- 111. The Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN
- 112. World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
- 113. World Press Freedom Committee