CIHRS Oral Intervention before HRC 9th Session About Racial Discrimination

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Human Rights Council- 9th Session
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Oral Intervention
19 September, 2008
Delivered by Mr.  Hossam Bahgat

Thank you, Mr. President.

This statement is delivered on behalf of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and ARTICLE 19, in collaboration with their partner organization the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

We thank Madam High Commissioner and the Special Rapportuer on contemporary forms of Racism for their reports on the topic of “defamation of religions”.
Our organizations are encouraged by indications of a shift in the discussion of this topic, moving away from the use of the highly problematic term “defamation of religions”. A written statement submitted by our three organizations under this agenda item, provides a detailed analysis of the concerns we have over the use of this term as well as the content of resolutions adopted by the Council on the subject.

We support the purported goals of these resolutions – namely to promote equality, understanding and dialogue. Discrimination on the basis of religion, particularly against minority religious groups, is a very serious problem and more effective measures are required to address it. However, we believe that the framework of so-called “defamation of religions” and resolutions on the topic are unduly restrictive of freedom of expression, are often not effective in protecting religious adherents against discrimination or in promoting understanding and tolerance, and are vaguely worded in a manner that could allow governments to use them to justify policies or actions that are in conflict with international human rights standards. This has certainly been our experience in Arab and Islamic countries, where excessively vague laws on “contempt of religions” are often used to curtail freedom of expression and suppress religious freedoms.

Finally, we welcome the initiative of the Office of the High Commissioner to convene an expert consultation on the links between freedom of expression and advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. We hope that this consultation will provide an opportunity for all views on the topic to be expressed and debated in a way that could assist the Council in tackling this important issue while striking the right balance between different claims of rights. We look forward to a meaningful contribution by civil society organizations in this consultation.
I thank you, Mr. President.

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