53rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council (19 June 2023 to 14 July 2023)
Urgent Debate on religious hatred
We are horrified by the rise in hatred against persons on the basis of their religion or belief.
We condemn all expressions of hatred, wherever they occur.
Incitement to violence or hatred needs to be tackled with renewed commitment and in line with international law.
However, we need to be clear: The “desecration” of religious books and symbols cannot in itself always be equated with incitement.1 Context is vital when assessing whether a particular expression reaches the prohibited threshold under Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;2 and ignoring that with blanket bans like anti-blasphemy or religious defamation laws paves the way for mass censorship and the silencing of legitimate expression and dissent.
Such bans often target people from minority religions or beliefs whose very existence may challenge the convictions of majority religious communities3 or highlight the instrumentalization of religion by those in power.
We remind the Council that there is consensus at the international level that prohibitions on defamation of religions and protection of religious ideas, institutions, or symbols are not only contrary to human rights standards, but are prone to abuse – including against the religious minorities they purport to protect – and are actually counterproductive.4
[Instead of countries who currently have blasphemy laws that imprison marginalized minorities for expressing their religion or belief, pointing fingers, we must instead commit together to tackling hate against people in a way that actually protects those individuals, and maintains the integrity of the human rights system for all.] .
2 Article 20(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
3 Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, A/HRC/40/58, 5 March 2019, at para 16.
4 See for example, ‘Rabat Plan of action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility of violence’, A/ HRC/22/17/Add.4, 5 October 2012, at para.19; ‘General Comment No. 34 on Article 19: Freedoms of opinion and expression, CCPR/C/GC/34, 12 September 2011, at para. 48; A/HRC/46/30, 13 April 2021, at para. 73.
'Statement for Urgent Debate on public acts of religious hatred as manifested by recurrent desecration of the Holy Quran', Humanists International