Letter from Civil Society Organizations to State Representatives: “Defamation” & “denigration” of religions at the 16th Session of the UNHRC

In International Advocacy Program by


Geneva, 9 March 2011


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
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. The Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR)
111. World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
112. World Press Freedom Committee

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