Humanists at the UN in Geneva have today called for the complete abolition of blasphemy laws as incompatible with "one of the few rights that is absolute in international law, the right to freedom of thought and of conscience".
Roy Brown was speaking on behalf of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) delegation to the 22nd session of the UN Human Rights Council. The full text of the statement follows:
International Humanist and Ethical Union, Joint statement with British Humanist Association and Center for Inquiry
UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL: 22nd Session (25 February to 22 March 2013)
Speaker: IHEU Representative, Roy W Brown: Wednesday 6March 2013
Interactive dialogue with the SR on Freedom of Religion or Belief
The Right to Apostasy
We welcome the report by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and for his focus on the rights of religious minorities.
Mr President, religious belief is not genetic, it is cultural. No baby is born with religious beliefs. To deny the right to change or leave one’s religion is to deny one of the few rights that is absolute in international law, the right to freedom of thought and of conscience. To condemn someone because they finally learned to think for themselves runs counter to the very concept of human rights.
No-one can change by force what is in people’s hearts, nor should States seek to do so. To punish what a person believes is to demand hypocrisy. No internationally acceptable norms can be based on the beliefs of a single religion. But even on its own terms the religious justification for punishing apostasy is flawed, a denial of the very beliefs that many such States claim to be defending. [Al Baqara 256: Let there be no compulsion in religion]
And as the Special Rapporteur has noted: "… freedom of religion or belief has the status of a human right, prior to and independent from any acts of State approval".
Apostasy is not a crime, Mr President, it is a human right. To deny the right of anyone to change their beliefs is not only a denial of both freedom of thought and of logic, it is purely political, and clearly aimed at imposing social conformity.
Mr President, we urge all States to take immediate steps to decriminalise apostasy in the name of freedom of thought and freedom of belief. Failure to do so is an admission of the weakness of the very beliefs these States are seeking to defend.
Thank you, Sir
Speaking after the statement, Brown said: "For the first time as far as I can remember, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief mentioned both the rights of atheists and the need to ban apostasy laws in his summary to the Council. There is hope that the message which IHEU and others have been broadcasting for years, that the right to freedom of thought must not be counteracted by domestic laws, is finally sinking in. We must remember that apostasy is punishable by death, in principle, in at least six countries."