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ARTICLE 19 joins 26 other human rights groups to express concern over new religious defamation submission

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 22 October 2009 - ARTICLE 19 joins 26 other human rights groups in an open letter expressing concerns about recent submissions on religious defamation brought before the UN Ad Hoc Committee for the Elaboration of Complementary Standards.

The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), represented by Pakistan, and the African Group, represented by Egypt, has made submissions to the Ad Hoc Committee in advance of its Second Session currently taking place in Geneva.

The letter raises concerns that the OIC and the African Group submissions propose:

- The apparent inclusion of religions, religious ideas, objects and personalities as subjects that warrant protection under international human rights law
- The development of new binding international standards on the "defamation of religions"
- The protection of religions from offensive speech
- The defining of concepts of religion-phobias based on the presumption that all religions are internally uncontested.

The letter reaffirms the fact that international human rights standards protect individuals and groups on the basis of their religion or ethnicity, but do not protect religions per se. It is also noted that international law has consistently protected "offensive speech" because of the subjective nature of the concept. Adopting the proposals submitted by the OIC and the African Group would distort and undermine existing international human rights protection of both the right to freedom of expression and equality.

The open letter strongly recommends that the Ad Hoc Committee focus on measures to promote diversity and pluralism, as well as promoting equitable access to the means of communication, and guaranteeing the right of access to information and creating an enabling environment for both freedom of expression and equality.

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Human Rights Watch

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