Forty seven international, regional and national civil society organizations – including ARTICLE 19, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights – have written to Member States of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) expressing their opposition to draft resolutions on “combating defamation of religions” and on complementary standards to the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
The letter from the 47 organizations urges representatives of HRC Member States to vote against any resolution which refers to “defamation of religions” or which endorses the development of draft norms to complement the ICERD to the same effect. It also asks them to insist that any reference to “defamation of religions” is replaced with language which properly recognizes international human rights law, in particular Article 19 (on the right to freedom of expression) and Article 20 (on the prohibition of national, racial or religious incitement) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The letter reminds state representatives that the concept of “defamation of religions” is contrary to the right to freedom of expression, as protected by Article 19 of the ICCPR. It also stresses that the draft resolution on combating defamation of religions goes far beyond the permissible prohibitions on free expression – incitement to violence, discrimination and hatred on national, racial or religious grounds – allowed for in Article 20. In the opinion of the organisations: “any attempt to codify defamation of religions in international law will have highly damaging and long-term implications for the international protection of the right to freedom of expression, as well as the international human rights system more generally.”
The organizations encourage the States to build on the emerging political consensus demonstrated by the Outcome Document of the Durban Review Conference of April 2009 and Human Rights Council Resolution 12/16 of 2 October 2009, both of which omit any reference at all to the concept of defamation of religions.