UNHRC Side Event: Protecting Freedoms of Expression and Religion or Belief

Protecting the Freedoms of Expression and Religion or Belief for All:
Consolidating consensus on HRC Res 16/18 through implementation

Monday, 7 March 2015, 12:00 – 13:30
Room XVIII, UN Palais des Nations

The 31st session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) will mark five years since the adoption of resolution 16/18 on “combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatisation of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief.”

In the current geopolitical context, the consensus that underpins resolution 16/18 is increasingly precarious, despite being more important than ever. In March, the HRC will consider a follow-up resolution: it will be a test of its new membership, and an opportunity for all States to consolidate consensus by recommitting to implementation.

Heiner Bielefeldt’s final report to the HRC as UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief comes at a crucial time; it advances legal clarity on the close interrelatedness between the freedoms of religion or belief and expression, dispelling myths that these rights are in tension. He argues that religious intolerance is best challenged through dialogue and debate; also identifying that international law requires the repeal of blasphemy laws and the end to abuse of vague incitement laws, since these are often abused to target religion or belief minorities. It makes clear that limitations on expression are an exceptional and last resort to tackle intolerance, and that any incitement prohibitions must meet the high threshold test set out in OHCHR’s Rabat Plan of Action.

The Special Rapporteur draws upon resolution 16/18 and the Rabat Plan of Action to suggest practical and positive measures for States and other stakeholders, in particular civil society, national human rights institutions, the media and others, to tackle the root causes of religion or belief based intolerance. However, a significant “implementation gap” remains between the standards these instruments embody, and realities for individuals on the ground, notably civil society, religion or belief minorities, journalists and bloggers, and human rights defenders. Though the Istanbul Process has great potential to be a cross-regional, multi-stakeholder and participatory forum to share practical experiences in addressing this gap, more must be done to maximise its role in furthering implementation.

Join us during the 31st Session of the Human Rights Council to discuss:

  • What is already being done at the domestic level in the spirit of implementing resolution 16/18 and the Rabat Plan of Action?
  • What obstacles exist to effectively tackling religious intolerance at the domestic level, and how can these be overcome?  
  • How can the Istanbul Process better draw on diverse experiences in advancing practical implementation of resolution 16/18?

Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of religion or belief, UN
Hussein Khalid, Haki Africa, Kenya
Marie Juul Petersen, Danish Institute for Human Rights, Denmark
Noor Farida Ariffin, G25, Malaysia

Moderator: Barbora Bukovska, Senior Director for Law and Policy, ARTICLE 19

RSVP: [email protected]