We are dismayed over the rise of hate against persons on the basis of their religion or belief worldwide. While we underline that the burning of holy books is considered disrespectful and offensive by many, such acts should only be challenged through open space for dialogue, debate, and dissent, and not through prohibitions on defamation of religions or similar restrictions.
In 2011, this Council adopted Resolution 16/18, a landmark achievement that set out a consensual action plan for addressing religious intolerance. This resolution replaced divisive calls to combat defamation of religions in favour of a positive agenda driven by the understanding that the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, and equality are mutually dependent and reinforcing. Resolution 16/18 remains a testament to the work of this Council in striking consensus and finding solutions to problems that affect us all. We fundamentally believe that Resolution 16/18 already provides us with a holistic framework to address the root causes of religious intolerance.
We do not believe this current draft resolution is the solution to the problem, but rather that it will undermine existing efforts to combat religious intolerance. We stress that the ‘desecration’ of religious books and symbols in and of itself is not an act of incitement. It is clear that international human rights law protects individuals and not religions, and that prohibitions on the defamation of religions are contrary to the rights to freedom of expression and religion or belief. These prohibitions fuel division and religious intolerance by shutting down interfaith dialogue, and can facilitate and legitimise horrifying human rights violations against religious minorities. By evoking language on the defamation of religions, this resolution seriously risks disrupting the consensus we achieved in Resolution 16/18 and poses a great threat to the future of this action plan in addressing religious intolerance.
We therefore urge Members of the Human Rights Council to reject the draft resolution unless significant changes are made to bring it in line with international human rights standards, and instead reaffirm their commitment to Resolution 16/18 and other existing frameworks such as the Rabat Plan of Action.