IHEU calls for the abolition of Africa’s blasphemy laws

  • post Type / Campaigns
  • Date / 4 May 2011

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has called on the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) to work for the abolition of blasphemy laws throughout the continent. Speaking on Saturday, April 30th, at the 49th session of the ACHPR in Banjul, The Gambia, IHEU representative Leo Igwe said that blasphemy laws “justify and sanctify tyranny, hatred, intolerance, forced conversion, intimidation and violence.”
Below is the IHEU statement in full:

Madam Chairperson,

The existence of blasphemy laws in the penal system of state parties is incompatible with basic human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the African Charter, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in other international human rights instruments. Blasphemy laws punish actions and expressions that are considered offensive or insulting to a religion. They include expressions doubting or denying the existence of God or Allah; expressions critical of prophets and prophesies, religious dogmas or laws like sharia. Blasphemy laws criminalize expressions that are critical of certain religions, the dominant religion or religions. In Nigeria1, Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan etc, actions or expressions considered blasphemous are punishable by imprisonment or, in some states, death.

Madam Chairperson,
Laws are made to protect and defend the people and to guarantee their full human rights and liberties. But this is not the case with blasphemy laws. These laws violate the right to freedom of religion or belief, the right to freedom of expression, the rights of minorities and ultimately the right to life. Blasphemy laws are weapons of religious oppression, persecution and discrimination. They target religious minorities2 including atheists, agnostics and freethinkers, religious apostates and dissenters. Blasphemy laws are used by religious extremists to justify and sanctify tyranny, hatred, intolerance, forced conversion, intimidation and violence. Blasphemy laws protect a religion or some religions from criticism at the expense of human rights and dignity.
No state that punishes persons for blasphemy can lay claim to upholding the full human rights of the people.

Madam Chairperson, states in Africa with blasphemy laws in their penal or criminal codes are in breach of their human rights obligations and commitments under the African Charter.

IHEU wishes to draw the attention of this Commission to the recent statement of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay following the assassination of Pakistan’s governor of Punjab Province Salman Taseer and its Minister for Minority Affairs Shabaz Bhatti. She said “Experience around the world has shown that blasphemy laws often become a double edged sword. While aimed at protecting certain values they are open to abuse and lead to violations of freedom of expression, freedom of religion and ultimately the right to life”.3

There have been reports of such abuses and violations in Nigeria4, Egypt5, Algeria6, and Sudan7.

IHEU calls upon the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights to take up the campaign for the abolition of blasphemy laws in the region. African Commission should raise the issue of abolishing blasphemy laws when examining the periodic reports of state parties and during official visits. IHEU urges the ACHPR to recommend to state parties appropriate legal and human rights reforms for the repeal of these laws, which are inconsistent with the responsibility of states to guarantee the human rights of all its citizens, not merely a favored group.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blasphemy_law_in_Nigeria
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blasphemy_law_in_Egypt
3.  http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/EGUA-8EKMFJ?OpenDocument&RSS20&RSS20=FS
4.  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/2518159.stm
5.  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/754406.stm
6   http://www.christiantoday.com/article/christians.in.algeria.face.jail.for.blasp    hemy/21719.htm
7.  http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/teacher-held-for-teddy-bear-blasphemy-760590.html

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