Freedoms of religion and expression ‘twin rights’ in fighting intolerance – UN report

Outside a Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka. Photo: IRIN

9 March 2016 – The freedoms of religion and of expression are not contradictory but complementary, as both rights are the twin tools in combating incitement to hatred, an independent United Nations human rights expert said today.

“There is widespread perception that the rights to freedom of religion or belief and to freedom of opinion and expression are in opposition to each other,” said Heiner Bielefeldt, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, during the presentation of his latest report to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.

While freedom of expression seems to signal a “green light” to all sorts of provocation, freedom of religion or belief seems to give a “stop sign” instead, he said.

In his report, the expert considers that both rights are closely related in law and practice, and they both protect unconditionally a person’s inner realm of thinking and believing without any restrictions.

Mr. Bielefeldt explained that some problematic restrictions include blasphemy laws, unclear anti-hatred laws and criminalization of ill-defined superiority claims.

He also noted that the synergies between both rights exist in different formats, such as interreligious communication, frank public discourse and policies of the government and other actors, to publicly condemn incitement to acts of hatred.

The expert called on all States to proactively share their experiences and best practices when implementing the Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 to fight intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of persons based on religion or belief, as well as discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against them.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

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