IHEU condemns restrictions on freedom of expression at the UN

  • Date / 6 October 2006

In a statement to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, IHEU has condemned attempts to stifle legitimate criticism of religion and academic research into religious history and custom on the grounds of supposed “defamation of religion”, in particular the resolutions on “Combating Defamation of Religions” passed at the Human Rights Commission from 1999 to 2005.

International Humanist and Ethical Union

Statement by Roy Brown, main representative of IHEU, to the Second Session of the Human Rights Council, 4 October 2006

Incitement to religious hatred

Mr President,

In the context of proposal A/HRC/2/l.25 concerning incitement to racial and religious hatred, I refer to our oral statement to the Council of 26 June 2006 [1] and to our written statement E/CN.4/2006/NGO/244, “Islamophobia and Freedom of Expression” and would like to draw the attention of delegates to a report [2] which appeared in the August 2006 edition of the Sri Lanka Journal of International Law. The report is crucial to the debate. It points out that the wording of the 1999 to 2005 resolutions of the Commission on “Combating Defamation of Religions”, makes restrictions on speech that are contrary to many international instruments. The report makes three recommendations for improvement:

First, any such resolution should include language that deplores the use of religion in order to justify or incite any form of violence and hatred.

Secondly, the resolution should make it clear that the judgment of whether a particular expression constitutes defamation of religion should be objective [to ensure that States cannot rely on the Resolution to justify suppression of legitimate opinions they do not like. Freedom of religion does not protect religious feelings, because freedom of religion includes the right to express views critical of the religious opinions of others]. An objective definition of “defamation of religion” will ensure that States cannot isolate themselves from legitimate criticism by restricting academic research concerning religious history and custom, or from expressions that criticize religious practices or that introduce social reforms. To this end, the provisions in the resolutions that define defamation of religions as the association of Islam with terrorism and with human rights violations, and with “negative stereotyping” of Islam, should be omitted because they would restrict speech on matters of public importance and critical of public officials.

Finally, the resolution should require States to comply with international law. [Violations of freedom of speech often occur simultaneously with violations of other fundamental rights.] This provision will ensure that States will not try to use restrictions on freedom of speech to nullify other fundamental rights.

We urge members of the Council to carefully consider these recommendations which we believe would significantly improve the wording of any future resolution on combating defamation of religion and lead to far wider acceptance of such a resolution.

The report is available on the internet [3].

Thank you

[1] www.iheu.org/node/2307
[2] Grinberg, Maxim, “Defamation of Religion v. Freedom of Speech: Finding the Balance in a Democratic Society”. Sri Lanka Journal of International Law, Vol. 18, August 2006
[3] http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=911968

The Grinberg paper at reference [2] is available for download as a PDF file using the link below. If you have difficulty downloading the PDF file, please visit our PDF Help page.

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