UNHRC 31: The right to freedom of religion or belief

At 31st session of the UN Human Rights Council, ARTICLE 19 delivered an oral statement in response to the report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Mr. President,

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the report of Heiner Bielefeldt, and congratulates him as he approaches the conclusion of his mandate.

We agree that the freedoms of expression and religion or belief are mutually dependent and reinforcing rights; and that this has both normative and practical significance. The report should guide the work of this Council and the actions of Member States, in particular in the implementation of Resolution 16/18.

Five years after the adoption of this landmark resolution, and against a backdrop of increasing intolerance, full implementation must be prioritized.

Shrinking civil society space is one barrier to implementation. We agree with the Special Rapporteur that ‘hatred’ is best countered through dialogue and more expression: positive policy measures to increase communication must be our focus, rather than restrictive measures. We welcome your reference to ARTICLE 19’s Camden Principles on freedom of expression and equality as a guide to how the media can play a positive role in this regard.

We reiterate your recommendation that States repeal blasphemy laws, as recommended in the Rabat Plan of Action. Their application fuels intolerance and violence, censors dialogue, and frequently targets minority and dissenting voices. The Council must therefore emphatically reject any return to the divisive and dangerous concept of “defamation of religions”.

Civil society space is further restricted through broad national security laws, sedition, and the abuse of ‘hate speech’ laws, increasingly in the online context, further restricting the possibilities for effective dialogue. We call all States to ensure their legal frameworks comply with international standards on freedom of expression.

Notwithstanding these trends, civil society actors are among those working to create space to promote mutual understanding in the spirit of resolution 16/18. State and non-State actors, including the media, are also engaging in practical actions to positively address intolerance.

We ask the Special Rapporteur how this Council, in particular through the Istanbul Process, can reinvigorate implementation of Resolution 16/18, including by providing space to all stakeholders to share experience of what works to address intolerance?

Thank you.