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Human Rights Council: panel discussion on promotion of tolerance sees less divisive debate
Thursday, 14 July 2011 15:12

 

On 14 June 2011, the Human Rights Council (the Council), convened a panel discussion on strengthening international efforts to promote culture of tolerance and respect for human rights and diversity of religions and beliefs. In her opening statement, Navanethem Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, highlighted the panel’s aim to explore ways to enhance international efforts and promote global dialogue between States and civil society to combat intolerance, negative stereotyping and discrimination against persons based on religion or beliefs. The convening of the expert panel was initiated by Council resolution 16/18, which aimed at combating intolerance, and discrimination against religious beliefs, and promoting collaboration among States to take measures to eliminate incidents of religious intolerance. The resolution marked a move beyond an unconstructive series of resolutions on ‘defamation of religions’ (sponsored by Pakistan) and this panel was viewed as an opportunity to cement that move.

 

The opening statements of the panellists addressed the role of education, the media, and legislative tools in combating religious intolerance. In particular, Mr Ahmer Bilal Soofi, President of the Research Society of International Law in Pakistan, encouraged States to promote inter-faith debates, especially among scholars and jurists, rather than only among government officials. The other panellists strongly supported these proposals and also emphasised the need to deliver training and education on religious sensitivities to police officers enabling them to more effectively monitor and prevent the rise of religious intolerance.

 

Furthermore, the panel encouraged the international community to consider creating new joint media outlets with journalists from different cultural and religious backgrounds, as an important long-term approach in dealing with stereotyping and religious intolerance in the media. Mr Adil Akhmetov[1] also highlighted the crucial role that information mechanisms play in these debates, and the need for reliable statistical data about anti-Muslim hate crimes in order to devise robust action plans to combat hate crimes.

 

Overall the discussion was constructive, and revealed the important issues that need to be addressed by policy makers, government officials, civil society actors, and religious leaders. Many States taking the floor affirmed resolution 16/18 as an important stepping-stone in tackling religious intolerance and negative stereotyping.

 

The majority of States congratulated the panellists for their suggestions on how to combat intolerance and discrimination against individuals on the basis of their religious beliefs, and recognised the crucial role of the UN system in helping to achieve these aims. The major area of focus during the discussion was education and promotion of inter-faith forums at local, national and international levels. In particular, the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom (UK), Austria, Australia, and Azerbaijan presented their national and regional attempts to promote educational events, such as diversity or inter-faith weeks, in schools and universities. The representatives asserted that education is critical in promoting tolerance and awareness of religious differences, and is a necessary tool in creating a dialogue between various cultures.

 

Some States argued that the key is a continuing lack of dialogue between the Islamic and non-Islamic world. Cuba, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, the Maldives, and Iran stressed that Muslims often face individual and institutional discrimination, mainly due to weak government support and a lack of protection against such discrimination. These States urged the Council to devise strategic national plans to tackle xenophobia and religious intolerance. The representative from the Maldives also asserted that the ‘Islamic world’ should build more awareness of what Islam truly stands for to strengthen a dialogue with the non-Islamic world.

 

Despite the generally constructive tone, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Cuba continued to suggest strong recommendations in terms of limiting freedom of expression where religion is concerned, and criminalising incidents of religious hatred, continuing describe these incidents as ‘defamation of religions’.  This contrasted with the US, which advocated measures that ‘would promote more effective actions to increase religious tolerance, instead of prohibiting potentially offensive expression’. As in previous debates around the balance between freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief, significant divergences emerged between States, revealing the difficulty of finding common approaches towards combating religious intolerance.

 

In their concluding statements, the panelists highlighted the crucial role of civil society in elaborating practical methods to combat intolerance. Additionally, the creation of local task forces to promote tolerance and understanding, and to build a dialogue between different religions was recognised as an important new approach.

 

Overall, the discussions were well informed and constructive and did on the whole move beyond the issue of ‘defamation of religions’ to focus on intolerance and negative stereotyping of individuals. While more work may need to be done to consolidate the rejection of ‘defamation of religions’, the panel was certainly a step in the right direction. However, it still remains to be seen if that positive momentum in the Council can be carried over to future sessions, and related discussions in the General Assembly later this year.



[1] Ambassador and Personal Representative of the Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on combating intolerance and discrimination against Muslims. 

Last Updated on Monday, 18 July 2011 10:37
 
© by The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 2018