Slavery and Non-belief

  • Date / 15 June 2010

In a statement to the Human Rights Council today, 15 June 2010, IHEU Main Representative, Roy Brown, protested against discrimination against non-believers, which, in several states that belong to the Human Rights Council, includes the death penalty for those who reject belief in any god. Brown highlighted a case from the Maldives earlier this month, where Mohammed Nazim was threatened with the death penalty after publicly stating that he found himself unable to believe in Islam.

International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL: 14th Session (31 May – 18 June 2010)
Speaker: IHEU Representative, Roy W Brown: Tuesday 15 June 2010
Agenda Item 9: Contemporary Forms of Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

Slavery and Non-belief

Mr President,

We are deeply concerned by the continuation, with apparent impunity, of traditional forms of slavery in several States, despite laws prohibiting the practice. In particular, we urge the government of Mauretania, now that it has become a member of this Council, to ensure that its recently enacted laws against slavery are actually given effect and used to release the estimated 600,000 slaves still being held in bondage in that country.

We also continue to be dismayed by the state-sponsored, institutionalized hatred of non-believers in certain States. We note that at least three member States of this Council have laws in place that prescribe the death penalty for those who declare themselves to be non-believers. Those countries, sadly, include the Maldives, newly elected to this Council.

Two weeks ago, Mr Mohammed Nazim, a Maldivian, said in a public meeting that “although he had been taught about Islam he was unable to believe”. He is now in custody and facing calls for his death[1]. We call on the government of the Maldives to release him immediately, and to allow him to seek asylum elsewhere, because his life is now definitely at risk.

Mr President, belief is a matter that is internal to the mind of the believer. It cannot be imposed from the outside. That is why freedom of opinion is absolute in international law, and the right to express one’s opinion can only be limited in strictly defined circumstances as set out in articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR.

States which criminalise non-belief and who deny the right of anyone to change their religion or belief are in breach of their obligations under international law. And this raises worrying questions regarding the right to membership of this Council – of states that deny the very rights that the Council is pledged to promote and protect.

This is a fault line running right through the Council, Mr President, that surely must be addressed during the upcoming review.

Thank you sir.

[1] http://www.realcourage.org/2010/05/mohamed-nazim/

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