1. Clear invalidation of the notion of "defamation of religions" by various UN Special Procedures and experts

As was recently demonstrated by various UN experts, the notion of « defamation of religion », introduced in resolutions of the Human rights Council and of the General Assembly, is not compatible with international human rights law.

This was clearly stated in a joint declaration issued by UN and regional special rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression, on Decembre 10 2008, as well as by all international experts gathered at a legal seminar hosted by the OHCHR in Octobre 2008: the notion of ‘defamation of religions’ does not accord with international standards regarding defamation, which refer to the protection of reputation of individuals, while religions, like all beliefs, cannot be said to have a reputation of their own.

Mr Githu Muigai’s in his first address to the General Assembly as Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance stated that : "In the ninth session of the Human Rights Council, I presented my predecessor’s [Mr Doudou Diene’s] report on ’Combating Defamation of Religion’. The report highlights key issues, including reflecting the state of some forms of religious discrimination including Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism and Christianophobia. The report also makes a central recommendation to Member States, particularly in the context of the Durban Review Process: to move from the concept of ’defamation of religions’ to the notion of ’incitement to racial and religious hatred’. In this regard, I was glad to be informed that there seems to be an emerging trend among most Member States in agreeing to this idea, which would help ground the debate on concrete human rights principles and norms."
In addition, FIDH is of the view that religions should not be protected from criticism or ridicule. This would be an undue restriction of Article 19 of the ICCPR which protects freedom of expression. According to this, blasphemy laws and laws on aposthasy should be repealed.

2. Obligation for States to prohibit incitement to religious hatred

As called for by Article 20-2 of ICCPR, incitement to racial or religious hatred should be prohibited. This provision is aimed at preventing hatred against the individuals who hold a particular religious belief (rather than safeguarding a religious sentiment).

FIDH and its member organisations have witnessed an increase in acts of repression, violent hate crimes and hate speech against individuals on grounds of their religion, thought and belief.

They have targetted persons of muslim obedience, notably in the context of the fight against terrorism in European and North-American societies. As noted by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe : « police actions – including repeated ID controls and intrusive searches – have to a large extent been targeted at Muslims or people looking as if they originate from Arab or South Asian countries. (...) Muslims have been physically attacked and mosques vandalised or burnt in a number of countries. »

The fight against terrorism has also conduced to the stigmatisation of Muslim and Jewish groups. Publications in Europe such as the « Danish cartoons » or the racist film « Fitna » created strong resentment amongst muslim groups, and increased the stigmatisation of muslim communitees in these countries. The wave of anger against the Israel government over its crimes in the Occupied Palestinian territories included clear antisemitic statements and attacks of synagogues.

Other individuals have been victims of repression on grounds of their religious beliefs. They include Baha’i practitioners, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, suffer vilification and repression orchestrated by the authorities, in spite of condemnations by the UN CERD and the Special rapporteur on religious freedom. Muslim minorities have also been the target of hindu fundamentalist groups and elected public officials in India, where mobbing against mosques, attacks on individuals and bombs have largely remained unpunished. Inter-muslim hatred has also sparked, notably in Irak, where Sunni and Chiite militant groups have been attacking Chiite or Sunni individuals, crowds at pilgrimages or religious sanctuaries, often resulting in a heavy toll of civilian casualties. Christian pastors and practitioners have been murdered in Turkey. Media in Egypt have been developping harsh antisemitic statements which amount to hate speech and call for violence, in full impunity.

FIDH calls upon the Members of the UN Human Rights Council to act in conformity with Special Procedures recommendations and international human rights standards in using in all Human Rights Council’s resolutions or statements the legal notion of incitement to religious hatred in replacement of the notion of defamation of religion, to promote the implementation of existing legal obligations of the States.

For more info:
Antoine Madelin, Director for inter-governmental organizations, +32 485 22 22 87 / +336 68 22 65 72,
Julie Gromellon, Representative to the UN, +41 79 331 24 50,

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