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Over 100 organisations call on UN Human Rights Council to reject "defamation" and "denigration" of religions

(ARTICLE 19/CIHRS/Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - Geneva, 9 March 2011

Letter from Civil Society Organizations to State Representatives:

"Defamation" and "denigration" of religions at the 16th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council


We are writing to you to strongly urge your government to actively engage in the negotiations on the resolution on "combating defamation of religions"/"combating religious hatred and denigration of religions" at the 16th Session of the UN Human Rights Council ("the Council") that is currently taking place. Specifically, we urge your government to vote against any resolution which refers to "defamation of religions" or similar terms such as "vilification" and "denigration" of religions and religious symbols, and support a resolution which omits such terms and focuses on freedom of expression, freedom of religion and non-discrimination in ways that properly reflect international human rights standards.

This approach would reflect the growing consensus that has emerged at the UN General Assembly and the Council over the past two years that the concept of "defamation" or "denigration of religions" is counterproductive to global efforts to combat discrimination against religious minorities and serves to entrench repression and violence against non-believers, members of religious minorities and political dissidents. As highlighted by the UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of religion or belief and contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in their Joint Statement at the Durban Review Conference in 2009, laws prohibiting "defamation of religions" and/or blasphemy are regularly relied on to justify discrimination, repression and violence against religious minorities. There is also a growing consensus that the concept of "defamation of religions" and similar terminology undermines and distorts existing international human rights guarantees on freedom of expression, freedom of religion and non-discrimination. International human rights law does not and should not protect religions per se, but does and should protect individuals and groups from discrimination, violence and hostility on the basis of their religion. Religious beliefs, ideas and systems should not be exempt from discussion, debate or even sharp criticism, whether from internal or external commentators.

Furthermore, debates surrounding UN resolutions on "combating defamation of religions" have been amongst the most polarizing at the UN and have had the effect of stalling international cooperation on other human rights issues. It is therefore necessary that States make concerted efforts at this Council session to renegotiate the terms of the resolution on "combating defamation of religions" and forge a consensus around a resolution which reflects international human rights law - including existing language as contained in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) – and which presents a robust international response to tackling discrimination against individuals and groups on religious grounds.

Your delegation has a key role to play in the forthcoming negotiations to renegotiate the deeply-contested resolution on "combating defamation of religions"/"combating religious hatred and denigration of religions" and to realise a consensus resolution that both addresses religious discrimination and reflects international human rights standards.

In keeping with the reports of the Secretary-General on "combating defamation of religions" submitted to the 65th session of the UN General Assembly's Third Committee and of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance submitted to the 15th session of the Council, we urge your delegation to:

• Reject any reference to "defamation" or "denigration" of religions, religious symbols and persons, whether in the title or text of any proposed resolution on this issue;
• Promote language which properly reflects international human rights law, in particular relevant Articles of the UDHR and ICCPR;
• Reject any wording which seeks to protect religions, religious beliefs, symbols or "venerated personalities" from criticism;
• Promote language that protects individual religious believers, secularists and religious minorities who face discrimination, hostility or violence because of their actual or perceived religion or beliefs or lack thereof;
• Promote the full implementation of international human rights law on the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of religion and non-discrimination and the development of strategies by the Human Rights Council to promote intercultural and inter-religious dialogue.


Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Human Rights Watch
Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Association of Independent Electronic Media
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Center for Media Studies & Peace Building
Centre for Independent Journalism - Malaysia
Ethiopian Freepress Journalists' Association
Freedom Forum
Freedom House
Freedom of Expression Institute
Free Media Movement
Globe International Center
Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Freedom of Expression - Turkey
Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information
Institute of Mass Information
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela
International Federation of Journalists
International Press Institute
Maharat Foundation
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Rights Agenda
Media Watch
Norwegian PEN
Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de création
Pacific Freedom Forum
Pacific Islands News Association
PEN International
SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom (Samir Kassir Eyes) - INTERIM MEMBER
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Press Freedom Committee

Non-IFEX member signatories:

Al Haq, Occupied Palestinian Territory
Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma), Thailand
Amnesty International
Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, Egypt
Arab Foundation for Civil Society and Human Rights Support, Egypt
Arab Organization for Human Rights, Syria
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Thailand
Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, Egypt
Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP)
Baha’i International Community (BIC)
Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha, India
The Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Cambodia
Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), Argentina
Christian Development Alternative, Bangladesh
CIVICUS, South Africa
Committees for the Defense of Democracy Freedom and Human Rights, Syria
Common Concern, India
Democracy Coalition Project, USA
Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era, Philippines
East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP)
Egyptian Center for the Rights of the Child
Egyptian Foundation for Advancement of the Childhood Condition
Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights (EIPR)
Fahamu Refugee Programme, United Kingdom
Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, Philippines
Habi Center for Environmental Rights, Egypt
HRWG - Indonesia's NGO Coalition for International Human Rights advocacy, Indonesia
Human Rights First, USA
Human Rights First Society, Saudi Arabia
Human Rights Organization in Syria – MAF
Human Security Alliance, Thailand
The Inclusive Development Action, Viet Nam
Indigenous People's International Centre for Policy Research and Education (Tebtebba), Philippines
The Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (IMPARSIAL), Indonesia
INFORM Documentation Centre, Sri Lanka
INHURED International, Nepal
International Catholic Center of Geneva
International Movement Against All Forms of Racism and Discrimination, Japan
International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development, Indonesia
Iraqi Human Rights Organization, Denmark
The Jurist Association, United Arab Emirates
Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Association, Cambodia
Kurdish Committee for Human Rights-Rased, Syria
Kurdish organization for the defense of human rights and public freedoms in Syria- DAD
Land Center for Human Rights, Egypt
Law and Society Trust, Sri Lanka
National Commission for Justice and Peace, Pakistan
National Organization for Human Rights, Syria
Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization, Nepal
New Zealand National Refugee Network, New Zealand
Partners for Law in Development, India
Partnership for Justice and Human Rights Agenda, Nigeria
Pax Romana - International Catholic Movement of Intellectual and Cultural Affairs, Switzerland
Pax Romana - International Movement of Catholic Students, France
People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), India
People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, India
People's Watch, India
Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, Philippines
Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, India
Refugee Council of Australia, Australia
Rights, India
Salmmah Women Resource Center, Sudan
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), MALAYSIA
Sudan Social Development Organization (SUDU)
Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, Philippines
Thai Committee for Refugees, Thailand
The Other Media, India
Think Centre, Singapore
Yemeni Observatory for Human Rights
West African Human Rights Defenders Project (WAHRDP)
The Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR)

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