Durban review conference – guaranteeing the rights remains a challenge

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The international Federation for Human Rights publishes today its position paper for the Durban Review Conference, and addresses to UN member States specific recommendations to resolve contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Within this context, FIDH welcomes the release, on March 17th 2009 of a shortened version of the draft final outcome document (the Rolling text), which contributes to building consensus among participants. FIDH welcomes in particular the exclusion from the text of the notion of « defamation of religion », a politically motivated notion which is not compatible with international human rights law, as recognised by all UN human rights experts that have been working on the issue. « We urge the international community to ensure the rights of individuals against racism, not to protect religions against criticism », said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President.

The current text, we hope, will bring all actors around the table, in a common will to address plights of victims of racism throughout the world.

Several improvements should nevertheless be brought to the text. They include the following, along the lines of the recommendations included in the position paper:

Further clarifying the distinction between criticism of religion and incitement to religious hatred:

- FIDH welcomes paragraph 11 of the Rolling text, which condemns all forms of religious hatred that constitute incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.

- On the contrary, paragraph 10 draws a harmful amalgam between the (legitimate) denounciation of the incidents of religious hatred, and the « negative stereotyping » of religions – which could include criticism, caricature or ridicule of a religion, which is a right under freedom of expression.

- FIDH calls for paragraph 10 to be excluded and 11 amended to include a condemnation of the rise in the number of incidents of racial or religious hatred or violence.

- The text should also recognise the right of individuals to criticise religions, provided that their criticism does not incite to hatred, discrimination and violence against individuals belonging to these religions. In particular, States should be urged to repeal blasphemy laws, and replace them with laws that protect individuals from incitement to religious hatred or discrimination.

reaffirming freedom of religion, belief and thought:

- The Rolling text should reaffirm that all forms of discrimination against individuals on grounds of their religion, belief or thought should be abolished. Freedom of religion, belief and thought should be fully guaranteed, including the right of individuals to change one’s religion. It should consequently call upon States to decriminalise aposthasy, and to ensure the right of individuals to practice their religion.

Strengthening the duty to prevent, sanction and provide reparation:

- While the Rolling text makes reference to the fight aginst impunity of authors of racism, the text should acknowledge (In Section 1.C) the role of the fight against impunity in the prevention of racism.

- It should also recognize (in Section 1.D) the important developments that have occured since the WCAR, in these fields, notably :

the adoption by the General Assembly in 2005 of the set of Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violatipons of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law;

the trial of the highest responsibles of international crimes, including former presidents, both through national and international courts, as a historical achievement;

the development of the recourse to extraterritorial and universal jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute major crimes, when local courts have failed to prosecute, as a fundamental component of the fight against impunity for these crimes and the reparation of their victims.

Underlining important normative and jurisprudential developments:

- the Rolling text, when recognizing the important normative developments since the WCAR (para 95) should also refer to the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances.

- while the text recognises the interpretation given by ICERD to the definition of the concept of racial discrimination (para. 34), it should also underline the value of the General Comments published by this committee, in providing further guidance on the extent of the obligations of its member States, notably the General Comments which were adopted since the WCAR on Roma (27), on descent (29) and on non-citizens (30).

- the text should also refer to the important development of international jurisprudence on the prohibition of discrimination provided by the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee onthe elimination of discrimination against women. It should underline the necessity to lift all reservations to these conventions that are contrary to their objectives and purposes.

Urging the end to all forms of foreign occupation

- the Rolling text should further call for the end of all forms of colonialism and foreign occupation and their consequences in the field of racism and racist discrimination, notably the closure of territories, the seisure of land, the violations of the right to self determination, of cultural rights of occupied populations, on grounds of their national, cultural, ethnic or religious grounds.

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