Speaking at the United Nations Human Rights Council, IHEU has called for a clear distinction to be drawn between protection for the rights of believers and attempts to protect ideas, beliefs and practices from legitimate criticism.
International Humanist and Ethical Union
Human Rights Council, Sixth Session 10 – 28 September 2007
Agenda Item 3: Report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief
Statement by IHEU main representative, Roy W. Brown, 13 September 2007
Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Expression
We welcome the report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, [A/HRC/6/5] and would like to comment on the somewhat fraught interrelationship between religious freedom and freedom of expression.
In her report to the Council [A/HRC/6/4] the High Commissioner for Human Rights rightly states that “Freedom of expression and freedom of religion walk together”. She reported that following a proposal from the Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Contemporary forms of Racism, the Chairman of the Human Rights Committee had expressed himself to be “particularly interested” in drafting a revised comment on article 20 of the ICCPR.
Rightly understood, there is no conflict between freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief. All must be able to follow their consciences, express their beliefs and practice their religion, subject only to the constraint that in so doing they do not impede the right of others to do the same.
When dealing with issues that are this politically sensitive it is vital that terms are clearly defined. But sadly, for example, none of the repeated resolutions on combating defamation of religions sponsored by the OIC and adopted by the old Commission, by the Council and recently by the UN General Assembly, define what is meant by “defamation of religion”. This is a serious omission because we note with dismay that this lack of clarity is already being used in some quarters to stifle criticism of human rights abuse carried out in the name of religion.
Mr President, a clear distinction must be drawn between, on the one hand, protecting the rights of believers, and on the other, attempting to protect ideas, beliefs and practices from legitimate criticism.
We are making available copies of our oral presentation on this subject from the 4th session of the Human Rights Council in March this year.
Thank you sir.