UN: “Defamation” & “denigration” of religions at the 16th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Civil Society Organizations

Letter from Civil Society Organizations to State Representatives: Excellency, We are writing to you to strongly urge your government to actively engage in the negotiations on the resolution on “combating defamation of religions”/”combating religious hatred and denigration of religions” at the 16th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (“the Council”) that is currently taking place.  Specifically, we urge your government to vote against any resolution which refers to “defamation of religions” or similar terms such as “vilification” and “denigration” of religions and religious symbols, and support a resolution which omits such terms and focuses on freedom of expression, freedom of religion and non-discrimination in ways that properly reflect international human rights standards.

This approach would reflect the growing consensus that has emerged at the UN General Assembly and the Council over the past two years that the concept of “defamation” or “denigration of religions” is counterproductive to global efforts to combat discrimination against religious minorities and serves to entrench repression and violence against non-believers, members of religious minorities and political dissidents.  As highlighted by the UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of religion or belief and contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in their Joint Statement at the Durban Review Conference in 2009, laws prohibiting “defamation of religions” and/or blasphemy are regularly relied on to justify discrimination, repression and violence against religious minorities..  There is also a growing consensus that the concept of “defamation of religions” and similar terminology undermines and distorts existing international human rights guarantees on freedom of expression, freedom of religion and non-discrimination.  International human rights law does not and should not protect religions per se, but does and should protect individuals and groups from discrimination, violence and hostility on the basis of their religion.  Religious beliefs, ideas and systems should not be exempt from discussion, debate or even sharp criticism, whether from internal or external commentators.   

Furthermore, debates surrounding UN resolutions on “combating defamation of religions” have been amongst the most polarizing at the UN and have had the effect of stalling international cooperation on other human rights issues.  It is therefore necessary that States make concerted efforts at this Council session to renegotiate the terms of the resolution on “combating defamation of religions” and forge a consensus around a resolution which reflects international human rights law- including existing language as contained in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) – and which presents a robust international response to tackling discrimination against individuals and groups on religious grounds.

Your delegation has a key role to play in the forthcoming negotiations to renegotiate the deeply-contested resolution on “combating defamation of religions”/”combating religious hatred and denigration of religions” and to realise a consensus resolution that both addresses religious discrimination and reflects international human rights standards.  

In keeping with the reports of the Secretary-General on “combating defamation of religions” submitted to the 65th session of the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee and of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance submitted to the 15th session of the Council, we urge your delegation to:

·         Reject any reference to “defamation” or “denigration” of religions, religious symbols and persons, whether in the title or text of any proposed resolution on this issue;

·         Promote language which properly reflects international human rights law, in particular relevant Articles of the UDHR and ICCPR; 

·         Reject any wording which seeks to protect religions, religious beliefs, symbols or “venerated personalities” from criticism;

·         Promote language that protects individual religious believers, secularists and religious minorities who face discrimination, hostility or violence because of their actual or perceived religion or beliefs or lack thereof;

·         Promote the full implementation of international human rights law on the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of religion and non-discrimination and the development of strategies by the Human Rights Council to promote intercultural and inter-religious dialogue.  


1.        Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech

2.        Al Haq, Occupied Palestinian Territory

3.        Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma), Thailand

4.        Amnesty International

5.        Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, Egypt

6.        Arab Foundation for Civil Society and Human Rights Support, Egypt

7.        Arab Organization for Human Rights, Syria

8.        Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Egypt

9.        ARTICLE 19

10.     Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Thailand

11.     Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) 

12.     Association of Caribbean Media Workers

13.     Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, Egypt

14.     Association of Independent Electronic Media

15.     Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP)

16.     Baha’i International Community (BIC)

17.     Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR)

18.     Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha, India

19.     Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)

20.     The Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Cambodia

21.     Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

22.     Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility

23.     Center for Media Studies & Peace Building

24.     Centre for Independent Journalism

25.     Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), Argentina

26.     Christian Development Alternative, Bangladesh

27.     CIVICUS, South Africa

28.     Committees for the Defense of Democracy Freedom and Human Rights, Syria

29.     Common Concern, India

30.     Democracy Coalition Project, USA 

31.     Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era, Philippines

32.     East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP)

33.     Egyptian Center for the Rights of the Child

34.     Egyptian Foundation for Advancement of the Childhood Condition

35.     Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights (EIPR)

36.     Ethiopian Freepress Journalists' Association

37.     Fahamu Refugee Programme, United Kingdom

38.     Freedom Forum 

39.     Freedom House

40.     Freedom of Expression Institute

41.     Free Media Movement

42.     Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, Philippines

43.     Globe International, Mongolia

44.     Habi Center for Environmental Rights, Egypt

45.     HRWG - Indonesia's NGO Coalition for International Human Rights advocacy, Indonesia

46.     Human Rights First, USA

47.     Human Rights First Society, Saudi Arabia

48.     Human Rights Network for Journalists

49.     Human Rights Organization in Syria – MAF

50.     Human Rights Watch

51.     Human Security Alliance, Thailand

52.     The Inclusive Development Action, Viet Nam

53.     Index on Censorship

54.     Indigenous People's International Centre for Policy Research and Education (Tebtebba), Philippines

55.     The Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (IMPARSIAL), Indonesia

56.     INFORM Documentation Centre, Sri Lanka

57.     INHURED International, Nepal

58.     Initiative for Freedom of Expression

59.     Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety

60.     Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information

61.     Institute of Mass Information

62.     Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela 

63.     International Federation of Journalists

64.     International Catholic Center of Geneva 

65.     International Movement Against All Forms of Racism and Discrimination, Japan

66.     International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development, Indonesia

67.     International Press Institute

68.     Iraqi Human Rights Organization, Denmark

69.     The Jurist Association, United Arab Emirates

70.     Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Association, Cambodia

71.     Kurdish Committee for Human Rights-Rased, Syria

72.     Kurdish organization for the defense of human rights and public freedoms in Syria- DAD

73.     Land Center for Human Rights, Egypt

74.     Law and Society Trust, Sri Lanka

75.     Maharat Foundation (Skills Foundation)

76.     Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance

77.     Media Foundation for West Africa

78.     Media Rights Agenda

79.     Media Watch

80.     National Commission for Justice and Peace, Pakistan

81.     National Organization for Human Rights, Syria

82.     Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization, Nepal

83.     New Zealand National Refugee Network, New Zealand

84.     Norwegian PEN

85.     Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de creation

86.     Pacific Freedom Forum

87.     Pacific Islands News Association

88.     Partners for Law in Development, India

89.     Partnership for Justice and Human Rights Agenda, Nigeria

90.     Pax Romana - International Catholic Movement of Intellectual and Cultural Affairs, Switzerland

91.     Pax Romana - International Movement of Catholic Students, France

92.     People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), India

93.     People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, India

94.     People's Watch, India

95.     Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, Philippines

96.     Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, India

97.     Refugee Council of Australia, Australia

98.     Rights, India

99.     Salmmah Women Resource Center, Sudan

100.  SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom (Samir Kassir Eyes) 

101.  Southeast Asian Press Alliance

102.  Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), MALAYSIA

103.  Sudan Social Development Organization (SUDU)

104.  Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, Philippines

105.  Thai Committee for Refugees, Thailand

106.  The Other Media, India

107.  Think Centre, Singapore

108.  Yemeni Observatory for Human Rights

109.  West African Human Rights Defenders Project (WAHRDP)

110.  Women Living Under Muslim Laws – International Solidarity Network

111.  The Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR)

112.  World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

113.  World Press Freedom Committee

9 March 2011