Human Rights Council continues to be divided over 'defamation of religions'
Monday, 04 October 2010 07:00


On 28 September 2010, the Human Rights Council held an interactive dialogue with Mr Githu Muigai, the Special Rapportuer on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.


Mr Muigai presented two reports. The first discussed the manifestation of defamation of religions, and in particular the serious implications of Islamophobia, on the enjoyment of all human rights. Mr Muigai discussed several categories of defamation of religions such as attacks on religious sites, religious and ethnic profiling, and restrictions on using or displaying religious symbols. The Special Rapporteur concluded that the most effective way to remedy religious intolerance is to implement policy measures that tackle the root causes of such defamation.


The Special Rapporteur's second report was entitled 'Inadmissibility of certain practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary form of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.' Mr Muigai discussed the importance of States striking a balance between the right to freedom of expression and countering extremist political parties, movements and groups.


The dialogue with States presented several interesting points. States were divided on the issue of whether defamation of religions is a violation of human rights. Belgium (on behalf of the EU) stated that the concept of defamation of religions does not belong in human rights discourse. Sweden criticised the notion of defamation of religions as violation of a human right by attacking the resolution under which the Special Rapportuer was mandated to produce his report, calling it 'conceptually and legally flawed.' The United States echoed these same sentiments stating that banning offensive speech would not be appropriate, while most Islamic States implied that protection against defamation of religions is a human right.


Other States, such as Iran, criticised the Special Rapporteur for deviating from the main demand of the resolution, to examine the issue of Islamophobia. Other criticisms targeted the accuracy and methodology of the Special Rapporteur's report on defamation of religions. India and Bangladesh claimed there were factual inaccuracies with respect to their national court cases included in the report and attacked Mr Muigai's methodology for being flawed. Specifically, these States were dissatisfied that the Special Rapporteur did not include responses from States concerned in the report. The Special Rapporteur, responding directly to these criticisms in his closing remarks, stated that the shortcomings of his methodology only served to emphasise the very need for State cooperation with special procedures mandate holders.

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