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Report on ’Defamation of religions’ at the HRC

Monday 2 November 2009, by siawi2

The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial
discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Mr Githu Muigai,
under agenda item 9 presented his recent report on ’all manifestations
of defamation of religions, and in particular on the serious
implications of Islamophobia, on the enjoyment of all human rights by
their follower’ to the Human Rights Council (the Council) on 30
September 2009.

During the interactive dialogue two main and opposing positions became
apparent. Several States4 and regional groups, including the
Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), the African Group, the Arab
Group and the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) criticised the Special
Rapporteur for not adequately addressing the issue of the manifestations
of ‘defamation of religions’ as requested in Council Resolution 10/22.
Nigeria (on behalf of the African Group) and Pakistan (on behalf of the
OIC) claimed that the Special Rapporteur overstepped his mandate and
breached the Code of Conduct for special procedures mandate holders as
contained in Resolution 5/2. The main argument put forward was that
instead of taking stock of the various forms of manifestations of
‘defamation of religions’, the Special Rapporteur ‘dwelled extensively
on the conceptual debate on the issue of defamation of religions and
incitement to religious hatred, invariably redefining the mandate’.5
Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC) claimed that ‘instead of fulfilling his
mandate, the Special Rapporteur has preferred to question the validity
of the very clearly defined mandate in accordance with his subjective
and selective interpretation or preference.’ Pakistan further stated
that the report contains ‘unfounded and distorted assertions that lead
to the confusion of the existing narrative of this sensitive subject.’
Algeria and Nigeria (on behalf of the African Group) criticised the
conclusion of the Special Rapporteur that the existing legal standards
are sufficient for protecting against religious discrimination. They
argued that this conclusion is contradictory to the mandate of the Ad
Hoc Committee on Complementary Standards, which shall prepare
complementary standards to strengthen and update international
instruments against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and
related intolerance. Qatar, Indonesia, and Iraq stressed that it is not
enough to denounce acts that are linked to religious discrimination, but
that acts and policies which are based on racial an religious hatred
need to be criminalised.

On the other hand, several other States supported the Special
Rapporteur’s approach to move away from the sociological concept of
‘defamation of religions’ and to deal with the concerns behind the
concept within the exiting legal framework regarding incitement to
hatred. 6 France, Sweden (on behalf of the EU), Switzerland and Chile
stated that the existing international legal framework provides equal
and effective protection against discrimination on the basis of religion
or belief. States referred in particular to the ICCPR, ICERD, DDPA, and
the Outcome Document of the Durban Review Conference as reference points
for the protection from religious discrimination and incitement to
hatred. These States underscored that they do not regard the concept of
‘defamation of religions’ as valid in the human rights discourse, as
international human rights law protects individuals in the exercise of
their freedom of religion or belief, but it does not protect specific
belief systems. Even though these States generally supported the Special
Rapporteur’s approach they reiterated that religious intolerance is a
worldwide problem and not limited to certain regions or certain
religions or beliefs. Sweden (on behalf of the EU) claimed that the
issue of religious intolerance and discrimination should be mainly dealt
with by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion. Several States
shared the view of the Special Rapporteur that discrimination is rooted
in intolerance and that to tackle the root causes, a broad set of policy
measures, including in the areas of intercultural dialogue and
education, is needed. 7 Norway supported the Special Rapporteur’s
distinction of four types of behaviour related to religious intolerance.
Brazil emphasised the importance of inter-cultural and inter-faith
dialogue to combat religious discrimination. Brazil announced that it
will hold the 3rd World Forum on Alliance of Civilisations in May 2010.

NGOs such as Interfaith International, the Cairo Institute for Human
Rights Studies and UN Watch supported the approach of the Special
Rapporteur to consider ‘defamation of religions’ under the perspective
of incitement to religious hatred. The Cairo Institute stated that the
concept of ‘defamation of religions’ and resolutions on the topic are
not effective in protecting religious adherents against discrimination.
Often resolutions on the issue are worded in a manner that allows
governments to justify policies or actions that are in conflict with
international human rights standards and unduly restrict freedom of
expression. During the dialogue with NGOs Iran, Pakistan and Libya
intervened by criticising that NGOs discussed country specific
situations, whereas they should have only addressed the report of the
Special Rapporteur. The Council’s President ended the procedural
discussion by arguing that comments, which are not directly linked to
the report under discussion are out of order.

Concluding remarks by the Special Rapporteur

The Special Rapporteur emphasised that real and serious problems exist
relating to religious intolerance and Islamophobia. He explained that he
saw the need to firstly identify an effective legal framework in order
to discuss these issue further. He refuted the claim that the report was
an intellectual exercise and pointed to specific cases of manifestations
that were outlined in the report. Moreover, he intended to anchor
remedies and responses in legal standards as it is thus easier to hold
States accountable. The Special Rapporteur reiterated that the
discussions on the development of complementary standards are useful,
but that the outcome is yet to be seen.

Circulated by the Women Human Rights Defenders Coalition, on October 15, 2009