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Reject idea of "defamation of religion", urge ARTICLE 19 and CIHRS

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is an 11 September 2008 joint ARTICLE 19 and CIHRS statement:

ARTICLE 19, CIHRS and EIPR Reject Idea of Defamation of Religion

ARTICLE 19 and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), with the support of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, have submitted a Joint Written Statement to the 9th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, which will take place in Geneva from 8-23 September 2008, criticising resolutions on 'Defamation of Religion' and calling on States not to support future resolutions of this sort on the basis that they justify excessive restrictions on freedom of expression.

The Statement recognises the importance of the purported goals of the resolutions - which have in the past been sponsored by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and adopted by both the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council - namely to promote equality and understanding. But it also highlights three serious problems with the resolutions. First, they seek to impose restrictions on freedom of expression which go beyond what is permitted under international law, in particular by seeking to protect religions, as such, from criticism rather than focusing on protecting individuals against defamation or hate speech.
Second, the resolutions are not tailored to addressing the very serious problems of discrimination and intolerance but focus instead on limiting criticism of religion. Proper resolution of these deep-rooted social problems is possible only in the context of open and pluralistic debate. Experience demonstrates that minority religious communities, in most need of protection against discrimination, are also most likely to be targeted for so-called criticism of religion.

Finally, the resolutions are drafted in vague terms - even the central concept of defamation of religion is undefined and unclear - which leaves them open to being abused, for example to justify overly broad blasphemy laws.
ARTICLE 19, CIHRS and EIPR urge all States to vote against future attempts by UN bodies to adopt resolutions on defamation of religion. The organisations also plan to host a parallel event at the upcoming Human Rights Council, to highlight these problems, which will run from 1300-1430 on 17 September.

ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works globally to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech.

The full statement is available at: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/press/un-resolutions-on-combating-defamation-of-religions.pdf

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