UN Human Rights Council must consolidate consensus on 16-18

In United Nations Human Rights Council by CIHRS

ARTICLE 19 and Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) are concerned that a new draft resolution on religious tolerance, tabled by the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) at the 22nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), has been proposed without adequate consultation between stakeholders and introduces new language that threatens to undermine the consensus achieved by resolution 16/18, which protects both the right to freedom of religion or belief and the right to freedom of expression.

We call upon HRC member states to allow adequate time for proposed new language or action-points to be fully considered and recommend that the introduction of any new language be deferred, to allow for continuing constructive engagement and to maintain the spirit of resolution 16/18 and the consensus that underpins it.

Resolution 16/18 was the landmark 2011 resolution that replaced calls to combat the deeply problematic concept of “defamation of religions” with commitments to address religious intolerance through promoting the related rights to freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and non-discrimination. ARTICLE 19 and CIHRS welcomed this resolution as compatible with international human rights standards, and as a significant achievement for the UN Human Rights Council.

The principle differences between HRC resolution 16/18 and the draft proposed by the OIC are as follows:

  • Incorporation of language from Resolution 67/178 of the UN General Assembly

(UNGA) Resolution 67/178 is the parallel UNGA resolution addressing religious tolerance. The provisions of that resolution incorporated to the draft HRC resolution adopt a stronger tone in respect of limitations on the right to freedom of expression, and the harmful impact that expressive acts may have, in particular in terms of contributing to violence.


The new language does not contradict international standards on freedom of expression, but may detract from the spirit of HRC 16/18 by lending greater emphasis to the harmful impact of expressive acts and shifting focus from the importance of the right to freedom of expression in the realisation of the rights to freedom of religion and non-discrimination. ARTICLE 19 and CIHRS are also concerned that the incorporation of UNGA language that has less cross-regional support than the language agreed in HRC 16/18 will undermine consensus and limit the space for constructive dialogue between States in the future.

  • Incorporation of language regarding counter-terrorism

The preamble references language from UNGA 67/178 reaffirming that “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group”. In addition, Paragraph 4 incorporates language from the UN’s Global Counter Terrorism Strategy, although the content is limited to the resolve to promote peace and tolerance through public awareness campaigns and the role of UNESCO in this regard.

The inclusion of language regarding counter-terrorism, in addition to language from the UN’s Global Counter Terrorism Strategy, shifts HRC 16/18 away from its more general focus, and potentially duplicates efforts taken through other initiatives to address the specific issue of combating intolerance as part of effective counter-terrorism measures. Again, the inclusion of this new language without full consultation and discussion between States may undermine consensus.

  • Reference to the expert workshops of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Rabat Plan of Action

The preamble and the operational part (paragraph 5) welcome a number of initiatives undertaken by States and UN mechanisms alongside and in furtherance of the action plan contained in resolution 16/18. These include the Istanbul Process, the regional workshops convened by the OHCHR and the outcome report of those workshops that incorporates the Rabat Plan of Action.

ARTICLE 19 and CIHRS consider the expert workshops convened by the OHCHR, and the Rabat Plan of Action to have been a successful initiative, and welcome the extent to which States have taken ownership of the process and encourages further collaboration and dialogue regarding implementation.

  • Request for an OHCHR study on efforts and measures taken by states on the implementation of the Resolution 16/18 action plan including the views of states, UN agencies and other relevant stakeholders, and the OHCHR evaluation, of the establishment of a monitoring mechanism on combating intolerance.

ARTICLE 19 and CIHRS consider that it would be positive for States to share experiences in implementing the HRC 16/18 action plan, as retained in operational paragraphs 8 and 9 of the new draft text. We consider implementation of this plan as squarely within the spirit and framework of 16/18 and believe that implementation should be the focus of HRC resolutions, and action by States at the domestic level, going forwards.

However, the request for the OHCHR to evaluate the establishment of a monitoring mechanism on combating intolerance is likely to renew tensions among Member States. Such a mechanism has been the object of a range of un-constructive discussions and ARTICLE 19 and CIHRS feel that the time is not ripe for this issue to be re-introduced, even in the form of requesting the OHCHR to evaluate the establishment of this mechanism as part of a broader report. We recall that the Rabat Plan of Action recommends that States and the UN seek to strengthen existing international human rights mechanisms, in particular the human rights treaty bodies and the Special Procedures Mandate Holders, including through ensuring adequate funding to the OHCHR. The Rabat Plan of Action does not envisage the creation of any new mechanism. Further dialogue between States and other stakeholders should be entered before such a mechanism is referred to as part of an HRC resolution.

ARTICLE 19 and CIHRS recall the efforts taken by all States at the HRC in reaching the consensus that underpinned Resolution 16/18. With this consensus at stake, we urge all States to collaborate in good faith and allow adequate time for proposed new language or action-points to be fully considered and discussed before such additions are put to a vote. With this in mind, we encourage States to consider our recommendations and to redouble their efforts to consolidate the consensus achieved by Resolution 16/18 and move towards the implementation of the action plan contained therein in order to combat discrimination related to religious belief and practice, including at the domestic level.

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