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Separation of Religion or Belief and State

Issue: Consensus without Compromise – Religion and Human Rights; Limits of Freedom and Faith

For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society

ReviewReligion and human rights: The Limits of Freedom and Faith; The Islamic Conference – A cautious gentleman: The Economist, 3 April 2010.

Excerpts: “The OIC’s idea is to establish the principle that faiths need protection, just as individuals do. And to some ears, the OIC’s effort sounds like harmless UN-speak. But critics of the OIC campaign, who include atheists, Christians and indeed some Muslims, say the “defamation” idea is worse than hot air: far from protecting human rights, its embolden countries that use blasphemy laws to criminalize dissent. What encourages these critics is that more countries seem to be coming around to their view. Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, Zambia and South Korea voted against the latest resolution. The UN Human Rights Council vote was twenty for, seventeen against, eight abstentions.

“Predictably, then, he [Secretary General of the OIC] presents the OIC’s bid to stop defamation of religion in emollient terms, rejecting the idea that it validates cruel laws. ‘We are not against freedom of expression, freedom of the press or civilized criticism,’ he insists. The target is to invite everybody to respect Islam,’ he adds, arguing that the faith’s past is replete with ‘enlightenment critique,’ with many interpretations of the founding texts.”

“He contrasted the lack of high-level concern over “Islamophobia” in Europe with the recent stance of the Obama administration, which has named a young Muslim lawyer as envoy to the OIC, and worked with Egypt to produce a delicately worded free-speech resolution last autumn.”

“Deeper still inside the UN’s bureaucracy, another battle over religion rages – and the stakes could be even higher. An “ad hoc committee” is mulling ways to amend or extend the UN convention on racial discrimination. Certain states want language that would fuse the categories of race and faith; some want a new convention, or a protocol to the existing one.”

Review: Resolution on Defamation of Religions - 13th Session UN Human Rights Council

The resolution on Combating Defamation of Religions in Geneva was adopted by the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday 25 March 2010. The vote was 20 for, 17 against, 8 abstentions.  The resolution was adopted. This continues a lack of consensus started in December 2007 for the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the Resolution on Defamation of Religions passed in New York in November 2009 (See attachments).  However, the final report by Asma Jahangir, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, to the UN Human Rights Council was well received and the language in this year’s Resolution Combating Defamation of Religions expressed strong support for continuing dialogue to find consensus on these issues. A new Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief with a three year mandate will be adopted by the UN Human Rights Council at the June meeting. 







Pakistan (on behalf of OIC)

Combating defamation of Religions


Pakistan (on behalf of OIC)
Mr. Zamir Akram

video[English] 8 minutes

Link to Inter-active Discussion on A/HRC/13/L.1

Open the link above to the Inter-active Discussion by the UN Human Rights Council of the draft Resolution on Defamation of Religions.

The General Assembly (New York): Vote on Defamation of Religions

The Tandem Project Recommendation – Resolving the Impasse

Freedom of Religion or Belief and Freedom of Opinion and Expression is an inviolable principle of democracy. International human rights norms and standards are universal for protection of individuals. They cannot be compromised by organizations, religions or beliefs, culture or tradition. Religion or belief, for anyone who professes either, is one of the fundamental elements of life and should be fully respected and guaranteed.

From 1960-68 the United Nations met on a draft International Convention on Religious Intolerance before deferring work because of its sensitivity and complexity. Since December 2007, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva and General Assembly in New York has failed to reach consensus on the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, defamation of religion, restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom to leave a religion or belief. 

To resolve this impasse the United Nations Human Rights Council should consider an Open-ended Working Group to draft an International Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief that would elevate and focus the discussion and resources at a higher level as a platform on an annual basis. Since 1986 The Tandem Project call has been to renew work to draft an International Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief as a core international human rights treaty, deferred since 1968.

The differences in the meaning of international human rights law, universality vs. relativity, culture, tradition, freedom of religion or belief, including the right of choice to leave a religion, freedom of opinion and expression is too deep to be resolved or compromised as suggested by an optional protocol or complimentary standards seconded to other human rights instruments.” 
It has been fifty years since the seminal study on human rights and freedom of religion or belief was written by Arcot Krishnaswami, Study of Discrimination in the Matter of Religious Rights and Practices (1960). This study was meant to lead to a core international human rights treaty, a convention on the elimination of all forms of religious intolerance, and was to be a UN companion piece to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. There was an eight year window of opportunity from 1960-68 to create two core Conventions until the UN deferred work on the religious Convention because of its sensitivity and complexity. The Convention on Racial Discrimination (CERD) was passed in 1969 as a needed rejection of the colonial past of many African nations. Since then, there have been repeated attempts to dilute and fuse religion in a sub-category under race, the latest being an “ad hoc committee” created by the UN Human Rights Council. 

It is time for the UN to draft a legally binding International Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief: United Nations History – Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Attachments: Geneva- Report by UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief to the 13th session of UN Human Rights Council; Vote on Defamation of Religions (New York); Draft Resolution on Defamation of Religions, 13th Session (Geneva); Egypt-USA – draft resolution on Freedom of Opinion and Expression.