THE TANDEM PROJECT
UNITED NATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS,
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
FREEDOM OF OPINION & EXPRESSION & RELIGION OR BELIEF
Issue: Relating Freedom of Opinion and Expression to Freedom of Religion or Belief.
For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society
Review: The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression presented his report (A/HRC/7/14) in the second week of the seventh session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Special Rapporteur in his report refers to the differences in perception of Danish Cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. “In recent years, and with increased frequency, particularly due to events that dominated international politics recently, an alleged dichotomy between the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to freedom of religion or belief has been purported.” “The Special Rapporteur strongly rejects such a view, as it contradicts the clearly established notion and widely accepted principle that human rights are indivisible rather than rival principles. In particular, the ensemble of human rights can only be fully enjoyed in an environment that guarantees freedom and pluralism.”
Several United Nations Human Rights Council member
states belonging to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) reject as
inadequate the Conclusions and Recommendations of the Special Rapporteur, while
supporting the mandate on Freedom of Opinion and Expression. These differences
are being discussed in drafting a resolution on
Freedom of Opinion and Expression to be presented to the United Nations Human
Rights Council at their seventh session. Extracts from the Special Rapporteur
report are presented here that relate freedom of opinion and expression and
freedom of religion or belief. The Tandem Project will publish an Issue
Statement on the outcome of the draft resolution after the close of the seventh
The Advanced Edited Version (A/HRC/7/14) of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression for the Seventh Session of the HRC is available by clicking on this link:
Extracts from the Report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion
and Expression begin on the second page followed by an Issue Statement
Objective: Build understanding and support for Article 18, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights –Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion - and the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. Encourage the United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media and Civil Society to use these international human rights standards as essential for long-term solutions to conflicts based on religion or belief.
Challenge: In 1968 the United Nations deferred work on an International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Religious Intolerance, because of its apparent complexity and sensitivity. In the twenty-first century, a dramatic increase of intolerance and discrimination on grounds of religion or belief is motivating a worldwide search to find solutions to these problems. This is a challenge calling for enhanced dialogue by States and others; including consideration of an International Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief for protection of and accountability by all religions or beliefs. The tensions in today’s world inspire a question such as:
Response: Is it the appropriate moment to
reinitiate the drafting of a legally binding international convention on
freedom of religion or belief? Law making of this nature requires a minimum
consensus and an environment that appeals to reason rather than emotions. At
the same time we are on a learning curve as the various dimensions of the
Declaration are being explored. Many academics have produced voluminous books
on these questions but more ground has to be prepared before setting up of a UN
working group on drafting a convention. In my opinion, we should not try to
rush the elaboration of a Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief, especially
not in times of high tensions and unpreparedness. - UN Special
Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief,
Option: After forty years this may be the time, however complex and sensitive, for the United Nations Human Rights Council to appoint an Open-ended Working Group to draft a United Nations Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief. The mandate of the Working Group could be written to assure nothing in a draft Convention will be construed as restricting or derogating from any right defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Human Rights, and 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief
Concept: Separation of Religion or
Belief and State – SOROBAS. The starting point for this concept is the First
Preamble to the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights; “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable
rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice
and peace in the world. It suggests
States recalling their history, culture and constitution adopt fair and equal
human rights protection for all religions or beliefs as described in General
Comment 22 on Article 18, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
UN Human Rights Committee,
Urgent: United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, at a UN backed Alliance of Civilizations Forum in January 2008 addressed the importance of dialogue; “Never in our lifetime has there been a more desperate need for constructive and committed dialogue, among individuals, among communities, among cultures, among and between nations.” A writer in another setting said, “The warning signs are clear: unless we establish a genuine dialogue within and among all kinds of belief, ranging from religious fundamentalism to secular dogmatism, the conflicts of the future will probably be even more deadly.”
Extracts: Extracts are presented under the Eight Articles of the 1981 U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. Examples of extracts are presented prior to an Issue Statement for each Review.
1. 1 Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have a religion or whatever 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, practices and teaching.
1. 2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice.
1. 3 Freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
2. 1 No one shall be subject to discrimination by any State, institution, group of persons or person on the grounds of religion or other beliefs.
Freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of religion
63. In recent years, and with increased frequency, particularly due to events that dominated international politics recently, an alleged dichotomy between the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to freedom of religion or belief has been purported. In particular, it has been argued that the dogmatic use of freedom of expression as a fundamental human right has undermined people’s ability to fully enjoy other human rights, in particular freedom of religion. The Special Rapporteur strongly rejects such a view, as it contradicts the clearly established notion and widely accepted principle that human rights are indivisible rather than rival principles. In particular, the ensemble of human rights can only be fully enjoyed in an environment that guarantees freedom and pluralism.
64. Practices such as stereotyping and insulting ethnic, national, social or religious groups have serious and damaging consequences for the promotion of dialogue and living together among different communities. To fight intolerance and discrimination and to create a solid basis for strengthening of democracy, broad-based and long-lasting programs and actions need to be developed to promote respect for diversity, multiculturalism and human rights education.
65. The Special Rapporteur also emphasizes that existing international instruments establish a clear limit on freedom of expression. In particular, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that provides that “any propaganda for war” and “any advocacy of nation, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.” The main problem thus lies in identifying at which point exactly these thresholds are reached. The Special Rapporteur underscores that this decision which is ultimately a subjective one, should meet a number of requirements. In particular, it should not justify any type of prior censorship, it should be clearly and narrowly defined, it should be the least intrusive means in what concerns limitations to freedom of expression and it should be applied by an independent judiciary. The Special Rapporteur reiterates that these limitations are designed to protect individuals rather than belief systems, guaranteeing that every person will have all of his or her human rights protected.
66. The special Rapporteur notes that a broader interpretation of these limitations, which has been recently suggested in international forums, is not in line with existing international instruments and would ultimately jeopardize the full enjoyment of human rights. Limitations to the right to freedom of opinion and expression have more often than not been used by Governments as a means to restrict criticism and silent dissent. Furthermore, as regional human rights courts have already recognized, the right to freedom of expression is applicable not only to comfortable, inoffensive or politically correction opinions, but also to ideas that “offend, shock and disturb.” The constant confrontation of ideas, even controversial ones, is a stepping stone to vibrant democratic societies.
III. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
69. The Special Rapporteur recommends that Governments adopt legislation that unambiguously prohibits all forms of censorship in media outlets, both in the traditional media and the Internet. Defamation, libel and insult charges, particularly when stemming from public figures and specifically State authorities, do not justify any form of prior censorship.
On defamation offences
78. The Special Rapporteur strongly recommends that Governments decriminalize defamation and similar offenses, confining them to the domain of civil law. The amount of fines to be paid as compensation should be reasonable and allow the continuation of professional activities. The Special Rapporteur also urges Governments to release immediately and unconditionally all journalists detained because of their media-related activities. Prison sentences should be excluded for offences concerning the reputation of others, such as defamation and libel.
79. Governments should also refrain from introducing new norms which will pursue the same goals as defamation laws under a different legal terminology such as disinformation and dissemination of false information. Under no circumstances should criticism of the nation, its symbols, the Government, it members and their action be seen as an offence. Elected officials and authorities should accept the fact that because of their prominent and public role, they will attract a disproportionate amount of scrutiny from the press. Governments should also make sure that the right to privacy, especially in relation to family life and minors, is sufficiently protected without curtailing the right to access to information, which contributes to transparency and democratic control of public affairs.
On freedom of expression and freedom of religion
84. The Special Rapporteur urges media professionals, as well as the public at large, to be conscious of the potential impact that the ideas they express may have in raising cultural and religious sensitivities. The dissemination of intolerant and discriminatory opinions ultimately promotes discord and conflict and is not conducive to the promotion of human rights. Media corporations and journalists’ associations, in cooperation with national and international organizations, should organize regular human rights training programmes in order to enhance professional ethics and sensitivity to cultural diversity of media professionals.
85. The Special Rapporteur further emphasizes that, although limitations to the right to freedom of opinion and expression are foreseen in international instruments to prevent war propaganda and incitement of national, racial or religious hatred, these limitations were designed in order to protect individuals against direct violations of their rights. These limitations are not intended to suppress the expression of critical views, controversial opinions or politically incorrect statements. Finally, they are not designed to protect belief systems from external or internal criticism.
ISSUE STATEMENT: The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion
and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has been
reviewed by the seventh session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. A
resolution is being drafted to be presented for approval at the seventh
session. The extracts of paragraphs above from the report of the Special
Rapporteur are self-explanatory on his position regarding this right.
The Special Rapporteur in the extracted paragraphs expresses strong support for the current legal language of international human rights instruments on freedom of opinion and expression and recommends no changes in his Conclusions and Recommendations. Several UN member states, among them members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), have differences with him on the impact of the right to freedom of opinion and expression on freedom of religion or belief. They believe expressions by the media and others have defamed the Islamic religion and may want stronger language in the mandate to prevent such expressions in the future.
International human rights instruments are designed to protect individuals and not belief systems. According to Article 2.1 of the 1981 UN Declaration; “No one shall be subject to discrimination by any State, institution, group of persons or person on the grounds of religion or other beliefs.” However, according to one commentator, “this text is subject to problems of interpretation and requires great care; the possibility of a clash between the granting of certain rights in the area of religion or belief with norms governing other fields should not be ignored.”
Reply: The Tandem Project Country & Community Database collects information worldwide on United Nations Human Rights Bodies. The information is used for UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Reviews (UPR); UN Treaty-based Reports; UN Special Procedures, Special Rapporteur Reports. Click on the link below to open the Database. Read the Instructions & Table of Contents: scroll to an Article of your choice and click to reply.
The Tandem Project: a non-profit, non-governmental organization established in 1986 to build understanding and respect for diversity of religion or belief, and prevent discrimination in matters relating to freedom of religion or belief. The Tandem Project has sponsored multiple conferences, curricula, reference materials and programs on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion - and the 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
The Tandem Project initiative was launched in 1986 as the result of a co-founder representing the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) at a 1984 United Nations Geneva Seminar, Encouragement of Understanding, Tolerance and Respect in Matters Relating to Freedom of Religion or Belief, called by the UN Secretariat on ways to implement the 1981 UN Declaration. In 1986, The Tandem Project organized the first NGO International Conference on the 1981 UN Declaration.
The Tandem Project
Executive Director: Michael M. Roan, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Tandem Project is a UN NGO in Special Consultative Status with the
Economic and Social Council of the United Nations