For Immediate Release: November 15, 2011
New York – Human Rights First applauds the United Nations’ Third Committee’s adoption of a text on combating religious intolerance that does not include the harmful concept of “defamation of religion,” an historic step that brings the text closer to final passage in the full General Assembly in coming weeks.
“If this text is adopted by the full General Assembly, it would mark a decisive break from the polarizing focus in the past on defamation of religions.” said Human Rights First’s Tad Stahnke. “Governments should now focus on concrete measures to fight religiously-motivated violence, discrimination, and other forms of intolerance, while recognizing the importance of freedom of expression.”
This resolution coming out of the Third Committee is based on one adopted by consensus at the Human Rights Council in March 2011. It calls on governments to speak out and to condemn hatred, while encouraging open debate, human rights education, and interfaith and intercultural initiatives. The text also calls on the U.N. Secretary-General to submit a report “on steps taken by States to combat intolerance.
The resolution marks a welcome departure from previous U.N. resolutions on combating religious intolerance. For over a decade, efforts were made in several venues at the U.N. to promote the concept that states should prohibit “defamation of religions” – thus providing cover for abusive national blasphemy laws. Human Rights First has long argued that this concept is inconsistent with universal human rights standards that protect individuals rather than abstract ideas or religions. Indeed, blasphemy laws promote a stifling atmosphere in which governments can restrict freedom of expression, thought and religion and persecute religious minorities.
“The U.N.’s new approach reflects what is needed to combat the intolerance we continue to see around the world. It is crucial for leaders to protect freedom of expression, condemn and prosecute violence, speak out against hatred and affirm equal rights for all,” concluded Stahnke.