Human Rights First, Muslim Public Affairs Council Urge U.N. General Assembly to Combat Hate Speech While Protecting Freedom of Expression
New York City – Human Rights First today joined the Muslim Public Affairs Council in urging governments to reject national and global blasphemy laws that inevitably violate the human rights of religious minorities and vulnerable segments of societies. As the United Nations General Assembly gathered in New York City this week, the concept of “defamation of religions” cropped up in a number of speeches, including as part of the focus of President Barack Obama’s Tuesday address in which he gave a full-throated defense of freedom of expression.
“The feeling of being offended by hateful speech can never justify a self-proclaimed right to express violent behavior or to cause bloodshed,” noted the joint statement. “Countless incidents show that when governments or religious movements seek to punish offenses in the name of combating religious bigotry, violence then ensues and real violations of human rights are perpetrated against targeted individuals.” The groups note that U.N. member states should step up their commitments to fighting hate crimes and countering hateful discourse while continuing to support freedom of speech. The organizations also strongly condemn any violence in response to speech. Human Rights First worked successfully on previous U.N. resolutions that combat religious intolerance without including the dangerous concept of “defamation of religions,” which often provides cover for abusive national blasphemy laws. Blasphemy laws promote a stifling atmosphere in which governments can restrict the freedoms of expression, thought and religion, and persecute religious minorities. The groups note that these statutes are inconsistent with universal human rights standards that protect individuals rather than abstract ideas or religions. In 2011, the U.N. Human Rights Council and the General Assembly adopted groundbreaking resolutions to address violence, discrimination and incitement to religious hatred without reference to the controversial notion of “defamation of religions.” The move marked an important shift away from efforts at the U.N. to create an international blasphemy code, something that has for the past decade been supported by Organization for Islamic Cooperation. Human Rights First has long advocated the reversal of the defamation approach and has encouraged states to combat hatred without restricting speech. Several of the organization’s recommendations were included in the U.N. resolutions. For more information on blasphemy laws see Human Rights First’s report, Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Consequences of Criminalizing “Defamation of Religions.”