Human Rights Council: changing dynamics on 'defamation of religions'
Wednesday, 31 March 2010 11:04


The Human Rights Council (the Council) on 26 March 2010 adopted several resolutions under Item 9 of its agenda on ‘racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance’. The controversial resolution on ‘defamation of religions’ presented by Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC) suffered a significant loss of support this year. Although the resolution was still adopted by the Council, only 20 States voted in favour and 17 against. In 2009, 23 States had supported and 11 opposed the text. Interestingly, several States including Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, Zambia and South Korea voted against the resolution after having previously abstained. Chile, Argentina and Mexico made strong explanations of vote, emphasising their commitment to upholding freedom of expression while at the same time combating all forms of intolerance. 


The Council also managed to find consensus for a largely procedural resolution on the continued work of the ‘Ad-hoc Committee on Complementary Standards’. The consensus was possible not least due to extensive consultations between Nigeria (on behalf of the African Group) and the US, which led to the US withdrawing its own text on the issue. However, France on behalf of the EU ‘disassociated’ itself from the consensus, regretting the limitation of the work of the Ad-hoc Committee on the elaboration of complementary standards to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. In the past, the work of the Ad-Hoc Committee has not enjoyed consensus, and discussions during the last session of the Committee proved very difficult. The newfound consensus could form the basis for a more constructive atmosphere within the Ad-hoc Committee. It also shows that given the necessary political will, dialogue on the issue is possible despite the politically charged climate within the Council. At the same time, the ‘deep reservations’ expressed by the EU indicate that this dialogue will continue to be challenging. Finally, the Council adopted, also by consensus, a resolution condemning racism in sports.


On 23 March, the Council held plenary debates under Item 9.


It heard from the Working Group on People of African Descent, the Working Group on follow-up to the Durban Review and Programme of Action, and the Ad-Hoc Committee on the elaboration of complementary standards in what turned out to be a relatively uneventful consideration of agenda Item 9. The presentation of the Chairperson of the Working Group on People of African Descent was limited to Working Group’s visit to Ecuador, which the State welcomed and claimed to be already taking steps to implement a number of recommendations including in relation to access to education, employment, and tools to combat racism in the media. The United States and others expressed their condolences on the death of Working Group member Professor Rex Nettleford, who passed away during the Working Group’s visit to the United States in February 2010.



The presentation of the Chairperson of the Working Group on follow up to Durban lacked any clear content by way of updating the Council on its actual work in the last year. Instead he explained in very broad terms that the Working Group provides an opportunity to share experiences in order to implement the Durban Plan of action. The general debate witnessed an uncharacteristically terse response from Spain (on behalf of the EU), who expressed their ‘severe concerns regarding the inefficiency that characterized the session by overly and unnecessarily burdening the budget of the Council’. Other States gave little or no attention to its work, instead also making general reference to their commitment to the Durban Declaration.Nigeria (on behalf of the African Group), Argentina, Brazil, China, Norway, Russian Federation, Qatar and Kuwait.


Most discussion was reserved for the presentation of the Chairperson of the Ad-Hoc Committee on the elaboration of complementary standards, both in relation to substance of complementary standards and also in response to the debacle of the final report of the Committee. The Chairperson, Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, went to great lengths to explain that the final report of the Committee’s session had run to 17,000 words, and as OHCHR would not allow him to exceed the agreed 10,000 words, he decided to retain ‘only text-specific proposals in the thematic section of the report’, which should be read alongside the English-only version of the original draft.A/HRC/13/CRP.1  While a number of StatesPakistan (on behalf of the OIC), Nigeria (on behalf of the African Gorup)  argued that there is inconsistency in OHCHR not having translated the original report while translating other ‘non-mandated reports’, Spain (on behalf of the EU) was quite clear in criticizing the Chairperson’s failure to consult any parties before deciding how he would edit the report, which Spain regretted did not reflect the opinions of EU States nor elements that had previously been acknowledged in the discussion.Also the ‘cross-regional group on complementary standards’, see below.


The outgoing Chairperson also used his presentation to express his own views on the failure of the Ad Hoc Committee to fulfill its mandate due to what he considered to be ‘differences of perceptions’. In the general debate Spain reiterated the EU’s reservations for the need for complementary standards, while Switzerland, on behalf of the ‘cross-regional group on complementary standards’,Armenia, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, Japan, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Uruguay.  made sincere efforts to bridge gaps by acknowledging that religious discrimination is on the increase and that efforts need to be made at the international level.The same general sentiment was expressed by the United States.   It however, did not acknowledge that religions were rights holders. It therefore called for further work to build closer consensus on the basis of issues, rather than a legally binding document. Nonetheless, Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC), Indonesia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran called for advances in complementary standards on religious discrimination that included defamation of religions, which Pakistan characterized as continuing ‘unabated under the guise of freedom of expression, democratic and secular ethos.’


A small number of other issues were raised in the general debate, including the rise of neo-nazism in European politics (Russian Federation), racism in sport (Singapore), and domestic advances to tackle racial discrimination (United States). South Africa also stressed that in tackling racism much needed to be done throughout the world at the national level, but that ‘domestic law is not a substitute for international human rights law’, urging the Council to ‘be vigilant and ensure that this does not happen’.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 April 2010 14:18
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