THE TANDEM PROJECT
UNITED NATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS,
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
Separation of Religion or Belief
DEFAMATION OF RELIGION
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Issue: Defamation of Religion – 2 Papers, UN Resolution and
UN Member States comments.
For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs,
Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society
Review: Excerpts from two papers on Defamation of Religions
by Human Rights First and the International Humanist and Ethical Union,
followed by the UN Human Rights Commission 2007 Resolution on Combating
Defamation of Religion (A/HRC/4/L.12) and comments by UN Member States. “Since
1999 several resolutions have been adopted without consensus by the UN
Commission on Human Rights, UN Human Rights Council and UN General Assembly.
The resolutions proponents argue they will enhance freedom of religion and
prevent human rights violations, while critics have compared the resolutions to
‘blasphemy laws’ that violate freedom of belief and expression by criminalizing
criticism of religion.”
Article 19: International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Everyone shall have the right to
freedom of expression. It may be subject to certain restrictions as provided by
law and necessary for respect for the rights or reputations of others, or for
the protection of national security, public order, public health or morals.
Article 20: International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Any advocacy of national, racial
or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or
violence shall be prohibited by law.
Human Rights First: Paper on Incitement Laws and
Religious Defamation Laws
Human Rights First is a non-profit, non-partisan international
human rights organization based in
According to a study commissioned by Human Rights First - there is a high risk that Incitement
Laws and Religious Defamation Laws will unnecessarily trample upon the right to
freedom of expression. To avoid this, States should be guided by the following
five considerations: (a) The fundamental right to freedom of expression should
only be restricted in certain narrowly defined circumstances, prescribed by
ICCPR Article 19 and 20; (b) The fundamental right to freedom of thought,
conscience and religion should only be restricted in certain narrowly defined
circumstances, prescribe by ICCPR Article 18; (c) The fundamental rights of
freedom of expression and religion can only be protected if States ensure that
the elements of Incitement and Religious Defamation Laws are defined precisely,
provide for punishment that is proportionate to the alleged offense, and
provide adequate safeguards to prevent abuse of powers in the Laws’
enforcement; (d) The need to protect religious freedom should not be conflated
with the need to prevent racial hatred. Thus, States should not place undue
emphasis on Article 4 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Racial Discrimination (CERD), at the expense of the right to freedom of
expression and religion; (e) Any incursion on the rights to freedom of
expression and religion, in favor of greater regulation of speech, other than
those limited incursions permitted by the ICCPR, may well exacerbate, rather
than ameliorate, the problem of hate speech aimed at religion.
International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU):
Speaking Freely about Religion: Religious Freedom, Defamation and Blasphemy: http://www.iheu.org/UN-blasphemy-report
Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is “a world union of over 100 Humanist,
rationalist, secular, ethical culture, atheist and free-thought organizations
in more than 40 countries.” Founded in
Excerpts: Speaking Freely About Religion: Religious Freedom,
Defamation and Blasphemy:
Since 1999 several resolutions entitled “Combating
Defamation of Religions” have been adopted by several United Nations bodies,
including the UN Commission on Human Rights, the new UN Human Rights Council
and, in 2007 and 2008, by the UN General Assembly itself. The resolutions
proponents argue they will enhance freedom of religion and prevent human rights
violations, while critics have compared the resolutions to “blasphemy laws”
that violate freedom of belief by criminalizing criticism of religion. The authority of the UN Human Rights Council
and the General Assembly are necessarily constrained by their charters and
international law. This report therefore examines the concept of defamation of
religion to see if it is consistent with international human rights law. The
report reaches a number of significant conclusions: (a) The concept of
“defamation of religion” and the resolutions lack validity in international law;
(b) Outlawing “defamation of religions” as conceived in these resolutions,
would violate the human right to freedom of religion or belief as well as the
right to freedom of expression; (c) Laws combating “defamation of religion” are
analogous to laws against blasphemy, with the potential for similar human
rights abuses and; (d) the concerns the resolutions seek to address would be
better addressed by more uniform application of the existing UN standards for
countering intolerance and discrimination.
Resolution: Action on Resolution on Combating Defamation of Religions (A/HRC/4/L.12): UN Human Rights Council.
In a resolution (A/HRC/4/L.12) on Combating defamation of religions , adopted by a vote of 24 in favor, 14 against, and nine abstentions, as orally amended, the Council expresses deep concern at attempts to identify Islam with terrorism, violence and human rights violations; notes with deep concern the intensification of the campaign of defamation of religions, and the ethnic and religious profiling of Muslim minorities, in the aftermath of the tragic events of 11 September 2001; urges States to take resolute action to prohibit the dissemination including through political institutions and organizations of racist and xenophobic ideas and material aimed at any religion or its followers that constitute incitement to racial and religious hatred, hostility or violence; also urges States to provide adequate protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions, to take all possible measures to promote tolerance and respect for all religions and their value systems and to complement legal systems with intellectual and moral strategies to combat religious hatred and intolerance; further urges all States to ensure that all public officials, including members of law enforcement bodies, the military, civil servants and educators, in the course of their official duties, respect different religions and beliefs and do not discriminate against persons on the grounds of their religion or belief, and that any necessary and appropriate education or training is provided; invites the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance to regularly report on all manifestations of defamation of religions and in particular on the serious implications of Islamophobia on the enjoyment of all rights; and requests the High Commissioner for Human Rights to report to the Human Rights Council on the implementation of this resolution at its sixth session.
The result of the vote was as follows:
In favour (24): Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh,
Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Gabon, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Mali,
Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Philippines, Russian Federation, Saudi
Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Tunisia. Against (14): Canada,
Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, Japan, Netherlands,
Poland, Republic of Korea, Romania, Switzerland, Ukraine and United Kingdom.
Comments by UN Member States
TEHMINA JANJUA (
BIRGITTA MARIA SIEFKER-EBERLE ( Germany ), speaking on behalf of the European Union in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said the European Union strongly believed in freedom of religion, expression and belief, and believed an ongoing dialogue was the best way forward, and regretted that such a dialogue had not taken place in the Council. There were increasing risks of stereotyping Muslims after the events of September 11, but the European Union was strongly committed to fighting this phenomenon. All forms of religious intolerance should be fought as discrimination based on religion and belief was not limited to adherents to Islam, it was equally relevant with regards to anti-Semitism, Christianophobia, and such as Candomblé and other beliefs. Followers of all religions were victims of human rights violations.
It was problematic to reconcile defamation with discrimination, as the two were of a different nature. It should be stressed that human rights law, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights particularly forbade discrimination due to belief. The main focus should remain the rights and freedoms of individuals, and such an approach would be better for this resolution. International human rights law protected individuals in the exercise of their freedom of religion and belief and not the religion itself. Against this backdrop, the European Union had supported round tables and other discussions on religion in the context of the Council. For all these reasons, the European Union called for a vote on the resolution, and would vote against it.
MUNU MAHAWAR ( India ), speaking in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said that
PAUL MEYER (
SERGIO ABREU E LIMA FLORENCIO (
JESUS ENRIQUE GARCIA (
MURIEL BERSET KOHEN ( Switzerland ), in an explanation of the vote after the vote, said freedom of religion was a fundamental right for human beings, and could not be restricted or suspended, except under criteria of international law.
ICHIRO FUJISAKI (
ALBERTO J. DUMONT (
CARLOS ALBERTO CHOCANO BURGA (
DONG-HEE CHANG (
TEHMINA JANJUA (Pakistan ), speaking in a general comment on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said that they sincerely wanted to take the opportunity to thank all those who voted in favor of the resolution. There was a license apparently for anyone to attack Islam and Muslims. The Organization of the Islamic Conference hoped that the Human Rights Council would look at the resolution again to see how best the concerns of the OIC in this matter could be addressed.
The Tandem Project is a non-governmental organization (NGO)
founded in 1986 to build understanding, tolerance and respect for diversity,
and to 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 1981 United Nations Declaration on the
Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or
Surely one of the best
hopes for humankind is to embrace a culture in which religions and other
beliefs accept one another, in which wars and violence are not tolerated in the
name of an exclusive right to truth, in which children are raised to solve conflicts
with mediation, compassion and understanding.
The Tandem Project is a UN NGO in
Special Consultative Status with the
Economic and Social Council of
the United Nations