Statement

Human Rights Council: States must implement resolution 16 18 and Rabat Plan of Action

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ARTICLE 19

28 Mar 2014

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ARTICLE 19, Freedom House, and Human Rights First call on States to take action at the national level to implement the resolution on “combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief” adopted by consensus today at the 25th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC).

States should draw on existing guidance, including the Rabat Plan of Action, the authoritative statements of the treaty bodies and special procedures, to protect the right to freedom of expression and opinion, the right to freedom of religion or belief, and the right to non-discrimination.

The new resolution

ARTICLE 19, Freedom House, and Human Rights First welcome the resolution on “combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief” (HRC Res 25/L.41), adopted by consensus at the 25th Session of the HRC.

The resolution follows Resolution 16/18, 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 or belief, and non-discrimination.

Importantly, the resolution repeats its call on States to, inter alia:

  • Encourage the creation of collaborative networks to build mutual understanding promoting dialogue and inspiring constructive action
  • Create an appropriate mechanism within Governments to, inter alia, identify and address potential areas of tension between members of different religious communities, and assisting with conflict prevention and mediation
  • Speak out against intolerance, including advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence
  • Recognise that the open, constructive and respectful debate of ideas can play a positive role in combating religious hatred, incitement and violence
  • Encourage the representation and meaningful participation of individuals, irrespective of their religion in all sectors of society.

Addressing the implementation gap

Article 19, Freedom House, and Human Rights First are concerned that three years on from the adoption of Resolution 16/18, significant gaps remain in implementation of its promises on the ground. In too many States, responses to religious intolerance still fail to respect international human rights standards. We call on States to take action to address this “implementation gap” at the domestic level as a matter of urgency.   

The Rabat Plan of Action, launched by the High Commissioner in February 2013 and highlighted in the resolution, provides a detailed and comprehensive roadmap for tackling the most serious forms of intolerance and hatred, addressing the roles of State and non-State actors. International human rights law, including General Comment No. 34 of the Human Rights Committee on the right to freedom of expression and the work of the Committee on Eliminating Racial Discrimination, underpin the Rabat Plan of Action. It was also adopted following an open and participatory series of regional expert meetings, also welcomed in the resolution, and thus represents a global and stakeholder-driven blueprint for addressing the issues raised in the resolution.

The conclusions and recommendations of the Rabat Plan of Action should guide State’s efforts to implement Resolution 16/18. This requires, inter alia, that:

  • Domestic legal frameworks on incitement should, bearing in mind Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), be guided by express reference to Article 20 of the ICCPR, and include robust definitions of key terms as provided in the Camden Principles on Freedom of Expression and Equality
  • States should repeal blasphemy laws as such laws have a stifling impact on the enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief and healthy dialogue and debate about religion
  • States should adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation
  • Criminal sanctions related to unlawful forms of expression should be seen as a last resort measures to be only applied in strictly justifiable situations, and proposes a six-part test to assist in this regard
  • States should have in place a public policy and regulatory framework which promotes pluralism and diversity of the media, including new media; and which promotes universal and non-discrimination in access to and use of means of communication. 

Since its launch, various bodies and experts have relied upon the Rabat Plan of Action to develop further instructive guidance to States on how to implement their human rights obligations in this context:

  • The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s Recommendation No. 35 on combating racist hate speech
  • The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, directly called on States at the 25th Session of the HRC to implement the Rabat Plan of Action. The Special Rapporteur’s recommendations target States and other actors who must be mobilised to counter religious intolerance, including political and religious leaders, civil society organisations, national human rights institutions, educators, and the media
  • The UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect has also endorsed the Rabat Plan of Action and elaborated upon its recommendations in relation to preventing atrocity crimes.

States should refer to these standards, and also consult with these bodies and experts, when identifying steps to implement resolution 16/18 at the domestic level.

Reporting on implementation

Today’s resolution requests the High Commissioner to compile a report on the measures States have taken to implement resolution 16/18, and their views on follow-up measures for improving implementation of the plan.

This repeats a call made by the HRC last March, indicating a lack of satisfaction with the High Commissioner's report that was presented to the HRC earlier this month. While the resolution does not articulate the reasons that a follow-up report is needed, the present report fails to present a global picture of the implementation of Resolution 16/18 as only 24 States made submissions to the High Commissioner, with no submissions from any State in the African group or in the Latin American and Caribbean group. The report is also based entirely on State submissions, without broader or alternative perspectives sought from other stakeholders, such as national human rights institutions, political and religious leaders, civil society organisations (including religious associations), educators, and the media, whose engagement is essential to effectively implementing resolution 16/18.

It is essential that all UN Member States make submissions to the High Commissioner on the concrete steps they are taking to implement Resolution 16/18. In doing this, States should seek input from a variety of stakeholders in their national contexts to inform their submissions; this will at least partially address the likely shortcoming that will result from failing to seek contributions to the report from these actors directly. This will ensure that the High Commissioner’s next report, to be presented in March 2015, will be as comprehensive as possible. 

Moreover, any international assistance and experience-sharing activities at the international and regional levels, including through the Istanbul Process, should be driven specifically towards the objective of implementing Resolution 16/18 and the Rabat Plan of Action.  At the same time, efforts should be taken to make the Istanbul Process as transparent and participatory as possible to enhance its outcomes and public understanding.

Recommendations

ARTICLE 19, Freedom House, and Human Rights First call on States to:

  • Take concrete action to implement Resolution 16/18 and the Rabat Plan of Action, drawing on the authoritative guidance of the treaty bodies and the conclusions and recommendations developed by the special procedures in developing the legal and policy measures that are necessary to protect both the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, and non-discrimination
  • States should repeal blasphemy laws, as such laws have a stifling impact on the enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief and healthy dialogue and debate about religion
  • Use the template provided by Resolution 16/18 and the Rabat Plan of Action to address other forms of advocacy of hatred that constitute incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence on other grounds of non-discrimination recognised in international human rights law, including hatred that targets women, linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people
  • Seek the input of a variety of stakeholders to inform their submissions to the follow-up report by the High Commissioner on the implementation of Resolution 16/18. In light of the Rabat Plan of Action, this should include political and religious leaders, civil society organisations, national human rights institutions, educators, and the media, who must also be fully engaged in domestic initiatives to implement Resolution 16/18 as well as involved as stakeholders in the Istanbul Process
  • Continue to work collaboratively across regional groups to address religious intolerance in a manner that complies with international human rights standards, and to this end consider the merger and consolidation of Resolution 16/18, with the parallel resolution on “freedom of religion or belief” (HRC Resolution 16/13).