THE TANDEM PROJECT
UNITED NATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS,
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
N.Y. TIMES ARTICLE: OUTSIDE OF
Issue: Canada & United States – differ on the right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression
For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society
Review: ARTICLE: Outside
Louise Arbour, in her final report as United Nations
High Commissioner for Human Rights to the United Nations Human Rights Council
Extracts from the article, Outside of
begins on the third page are followed by an Issue Statement
Closing the Gap - International Standards for National and Local Applications*
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 consider the rule of law and 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:
Should the United Nations adopt an International Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief?
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 for an Open-ended Working Group ought 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 the 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 First Preamble to the 1948 United Nations Universal
Declaration of Human Rights reads; “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. This concept
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,
Article 18: protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The terms belief and religion are to be broadly construed. Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with international characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions. The Committee therefore views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reasons, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility by a predominant religious community. Article 18: permits restrictions to manifest a religion or belief only if such limitations are prescribed by law and necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
Dialogue & Education
Dialogue: United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, at an Alliance of Civilizations Madrid Forum said; “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 has said, “The warning signs are clear: unless we establish 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.”
Norms and standards on human rights and freedom of religion or belief are essential as universal rules for peaceful cooperation, respectful competition and resolution of conflicts. International Standards on Human Rights and Freedom of Religion or Belief is a universal platform for genuine, all-inclusive dialogue within and among nations, religions and other beliefs.
The 1981 U.N. Declaration states; “Every child shall enjoy the right to have access to education in the matter of religion or belief in accordance with the wishes of his parents, and shall not be compelled to receive teaching on religion or belief against the wishes of his parents, the best interests of the child being the guiding principle.” With International Human Rights safeguards, early childhood education is the best time to begin to build tolerance, understanding and respect for freedom of religion or belief.
Direct Link to New York Times article Outside
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.
3. 1 Discrimination between human beings on grounds of religion or belief constitutes an affront to human dignity and a disavowal of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and shall be condemned as a violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and enunciated in detail in the International Covenants on Human Rights, and as an obstacle to friendly and peaceful relations between nations.
Two members of the Canadian Islamic Congress say
the magazine, Maclean’s,
Some prominent legal scholars say the
Harvey A. Silverglate, a civil liberties lawyer in Cambridge, Mass., disagreed. “When times are tough,” he said, “there seems to be a tendency to say there is too much freedom. Freedom of speech matters because it works,” Mr. Silverglate continued. Scrutiny and debate are more effective ways of combating hate speech than censorship, he said, and all the more so in the post-Sept. 11 era.
The First Amendment is not, of course, absolute. The Supreme Court has said that the government may ban fighting words or threats. Punishments may be enhanced for violent crimes prompted by racial hatred…But merely saying hateful things about minorities, even with the intent to cause their members distress and to generate contempt and loathing is protected by the First Amendment.
Mr. Steyn, the author of the article, said the Canadian proceedings had illustrated some important distinctions. “The problem with so-called hate speech laws is that they’re not about facts,” he said in a telephone interview. “They’re about feelings.”
“What we’re learning here is really the bedrock
difference between the
ISSUE STATEMENT: This Issue Statement is on the differing
2. United States of America: Reservation: (1). That article 20 does not authorize or require legislation or other action by the United States that would restrict the right of free speech and association protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States. Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights reads: (1). Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law. (2) Any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.
3. Article 19: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: (1). Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. (2). Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. (3). The exercise of the rights provided for in the foregoing paragraph carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall be such only as are provided by law and are necessary, (a) for respect of the rights or reputations of others, (b) for the protection of national security or of public order (“ordre public”), or of public health or morals.
4. Article 20: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: (1) Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law. (2) Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.
5. The difference between Canada and the United States seems to be over how the two countries interpret the phrase “subject to certain restrictions” in paragraph (3) of Article 19 of the ICCPR and “religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination” in paragraph (2) of Article 20 of the ICCPR.
6. In the United States under the First Amendment,
newspapers and magazines can say what they like about minorities and religions
– even false, provocative or hateful things – while “Canada, England, France,
Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and India all have laws or
have signed international conventions banning hate speech.
7. These phrases seem to qualify as the subject of
debate as well on the U.N. Human Rights Council between
8. Two resolutions passed without consensus were; (A/HRC/7/L.15) defamation of religion, and (A/HRC/7/L.24) the mandate on freedom of opinion and expression as amended. The differences were principally between the European Union (EU) and member states that are also members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The EU believes Article 19 and Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are sufficient human rights instruments to cover protection against discrimination on incitement to racial and religious hatred. For the EU, reporting restrictions placed on freedom of opinion and expression is tantamount to a violation of the foundational principle of democracy.
9. There was a debate between members of the UN Human
Rights Council on the relationship of
freedom of opinion and expression to freedom of religion or belief. (A/HRC/7/L.15) – Defamation of religion passed 21 in
favor, 10 against, 14 abstentions; (A/HRC/7/L.24) – Mandate on freedom of opinion and expression with
amendments L.39 and
10. The OIC believes caricatures, cartoons, films and
other media issues in some EU and other countries is Islamophobia; a fear of
Islam or an abuse or defamation of religion and reporting restrictions must be
placed on the media when such abuse of any
religion is involved.
11. In the week HRC
resolutions on defamation of religion and restrictions on freedom of opinion
and expression were approved a film, “Fina,”was
released over the Internet by a Dutch Member of Parliament, Mr. Geert Wilders
associating Muslims exclusively with violence and terrorism. The Dutch
Government had a fast and balanced
reaction to the film saying the “vast majority of Muslims reject extremism
and violence;” as the Government defends the right to freedom of opinion and expression as a
foundation of democracy. Three UN Special Rapporteurs issued a joint statement
12. The EU believes Article 19 and Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are sufficient human rights instruments to cover protection against discrimination on incitement to racial and religious hatred. For the EU, reporting restrictions placed on freedom of opinion and expression is tantamount to a violation of the foundational principle of democracy.
14. This demonstrates the sensitivity of the question
on hate speech and it relationship to the promotion and protection of the right
to freedom of opinion and expression.
15. Into this complex multi-national, multi-cultural
debate over limitations to freedom of opinion and expression steps the U.N.
Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights. Ms. Louise Arbour, in her final
report as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to the United
Nations Human Rights Council on
* Preface Closing the Gap – International Standards for National and Local Applications, considers the question of a Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief followed by a Response from the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, The Tandem Project Option and Concept, and human rights-based Dialogue & Education.
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