New international call to “prevent disrespect for religions” must be firmly rejected

  • post Type / Campaigns
  • Date / 26 March 2015

A resolution proposed ahead of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) seeks to limit freedom of expression on religion, and must be firmly rejected, said the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and a coalition of human rights groups today.

Inter-Parliamentary UnionThe resolution was brought as an “emergency” issue by Jordan, ahead of the 132nd Assembly of the IPU, which begins on Saturday. The IPU aims to foster “peace and co-operation” and to stand for “representative democracy”. Its members would utterly betray the right to freedom of expression, one of the inherent prerequisites of democracy, should it pass the “Respect for Religions” resolution, campaigners have said today.

The “Respect for Religions” resolution, among other things:

  • “Strongly condemns insults against any religion, its values, principles, books, symbols, practices or holy shrines”; and
  • “Calls for an international convention to prevent disrespect for religions and religious symbols, which constitutes a fertile breeding ground for disputes between believers and represents a danger to all humanity.”

The resolution also claims that the right to free expression does not “permit insults against religions or their symbols and followers”, and the explanatory memorandum from the Jordan delegation, in what may be an oblique reference to the widespread existence of laws against “blasphemy” and “apostasy” in Islamic states, notes that: “As a gesture of commitment, the religion of Islam obliges all its followers to believe in and respect all prophets, and to believe in holy books.”

In an open letter to IPU delegates [PDF], co-signed by dozens of human rights advocacy organizations including the IHEU and freedom of expression specialists, the signatories dispute Jordan’s false reading of freedom of expression, noting that in fact the “Respect for Religions” resolution “is incompatible with international human rights law”. The letter further states that:

“As legislators and opinion-makers, we encourage IPU delegations to reflect on their potentially positive role in creating a climate of open but frank debate on all issues, which requires the full protection for the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief. In line with HRC Resolution 16/18, and the Rabat Plan of Action, this would include, inter alia, supporting measures to repeal blasphemy laws, to enact comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, and to speak out against instances of intolerance. Should the draft IPU resolution proceed to consideration for adoption at the 132nd IPU Assembly, we urge all delegates to unequivocally reject it.”

According to the procedures of the IPU, emergency items (such as the Jordanian resolution) are supposed to “relate to a major event of international concern on which it appears necessary for the IPU to express its opinion”, and only one such resolution can be considered for approval by the Assembly.

The IHEU’s head of delegation at the Human Rights Council, Elizabeth O’Casey, commented:

Elizabeth O'Casey

Elizabeth O’Casey

“We can hope that this resolution will be rejected before consideration at the Assembly, especially as it competing against emergency items on genuine, urgent issues, such as Boko Haram and ISIS.”But moreover, we hope that delegates will recognise that the “Respect for Religions” resolution is brought on a false reading of the existing international human rights framework, and passing it would legitimize wide-ranging restrictions on freedom of expression. The resolution claims it would enable toleration and dialogue. In fact, open dialogue and meaningful debate require the expression of honest disagreement, including the expression of views that others may find hurtful or offensive. Far from enabling tolerance, this resolution is intolerant of debate and dissent; it would suppress the questioning, mutual understanding, or criticism of religion, and prevent the expression of any religious unorthodoxy.”

The IHEU recommends to its Member Organizations that they may which to supportively forward the joint letter to any parliamentary delegates to the IPU from their own country. The letter is available in full as a PDF download via ARTICLE 19.


UPDATE 30 March: Following the international outcry, Jordan has withdrawn the resolution.

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