Event: Freedom of Religion or Belief and Expression for All

Freedom of Religion or Belief and Expression for All: Engaging national stakeholders in the implementation of UN standards to tackle hate

Thursday March 7, time 16:00-17:30
Room XXVII, Palais des Nations, Geneva

In his first address to the UN General Assembly in 2019, Secretary General António Guterres, warned how “poisonous views are penetrating political debates and polluting the mainstream”, with nationalists and populists exploiting fear to win votes. He told how rising hate and a “deficit of trust” in politics, government, and even multilateralism, is a threat to human rights, to sustainable development, and to peace and security.

The Secretary General is clear that “words are not enough”, and concrete solutions to fear are needed, with clear action to tackle hate speech, xenophobia and intolerance. The system-wide response from the UN is soon to be set out in a system-wide “Global Plan of Action for Tackling Hate Speech.” This will require, according to Guterres, “enlisting every segment of society in the battle for values that our world faces today.”

This whole of society approach reinforces numerous existing blueprints for action at the UN level. The Global Plan provides a timely opportunity to elevate and reinvigorate those initiatives, and revive political will for their implementation.

Civil society has a central role to play in achieving the Secretary General’s vision.

Maximizing inclusion, diversity and pluralism is essential to enable civil society action and address the root causes of discrimination that drives hatred. To tackle hatred based on religion or belief, for example, the importance of civil society has been underscored through numerous UN standards and commitments by States.

These standards have been bolstered by the Rabat Plan of Action, the Beirut Declaration and 18 commitments on Faith for Rights, and the Plan of Action for Religious Leaders To Prevent Incitement to Violence That Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes. Opening space for civil society to tackle hate also underpins Goal 16 of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, in which States have committed to promote peaceful and inclusive societies, and is recognized in the Global Compact for Migration as key to addressing anti-migrant discourse.

At the national level, civil society organisations are on the front lines of programme delivery in line with the objectives set out in these UN standards. While they are often collaborating with governments to reach solutions, those initiatives are sometimes detached from UN processes, missing opportunities for good practices to be supported, learned from and replicated.

During the 40th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, States will consider a report from the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of religion or belief, while parallel resolutions on tackling intolerance based on religion or belief and on protecting freedom of religion or belief will be negotiated.

As the UN scales-up its efforts to tackle ‘hate speech’, join ARTICLE 19, the Permanent Mission of Canada to the UN in Geneva and the Delegation of the EU to the UN in Geneva to discuss:

  • How can States best ensure an enabling environment for civil society initiatives to tackle hate?
  • What lessons have been learned on what works to tackle hate, and how can the UN better support these initiatives?
  • How can the Human Rights Council and its member states better integrate civil society as actors to assist in the implementation of resolutions on tackling religious intolerance and protecting freedom of religion or belief?
Panellists Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief
Saloua Ghazouani Oueslati, Director of ARTICLE 19 Tunisia and MENA
  Begaim Usenova, Media Policy Institute, Kyrgyzstan
  Zar Chi Oo, Harmony Working Group, Myanmar
Hosne Ara Begum, Thengamara Mohila Sabuj Sangha, Bangladesh
Moderator Andrew Smith, Head of UN Advocacy, ARTICLE 19