Saturday, February 28, 2009


source: highlights comments

selected excerpts


The Council of Europe
32. The Council of Europe submits that freedom of expression and freedom of religion are among the foundations of democratic societies and are instrumental for pluralism. The Council refers to article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and article 10, which protects freedom of expression. The Council notes that, in this connection, article 10 does not protect hate speech, speech that incites hatred or violence and discrimination against a specific group of individuals on ethnic, national, religious, sexual orientation or other grounds.
Regarding the freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs, the Council asserts that article 9 protects rights of individuals and cannot be construed as protecting a religion as such from verbal or visual attacks.

33. With respect to the scope of article 10 and its relationship to religion,
the Council cites a decision of the European Court of Human Rights, according to which "those who choose to exercise the freedom to manifest their religion, irrespective of whether they do so as members of a religious majority or a minority, cannot reasonably expect to be exempt from all criticism. They must tolerate and accept the denial by others of their religious beliefs and even the propagation by others of doctrines hostile to their faith."
The Council points out, however, that the European Court of Human Rights has accepted limitations to the freedom of expression under article 10 if such limitations are justified by a "pressing social need" and are designed to provide protection against offensive attacks on matters which are regarded as sacred by a religious group.
34. The Council also refers to recommendation 1805 of 2007 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which concerns religious insults and hate speech against persons on grounds of religion.
The recommendation further stipulates that blasphemy as an insult to a religion should not be deemed a criminal offence.

35. The Council also reports that the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, an independent human rights monitoring mechanism, strongly condemns incitement to violence or hatred and discrimination against individuals or groups on several grounds, including religion, and works to counter religious intolerance. In this connection, Commission general policy recommendation no. 5 "strongly regrets that Islam is sometimes portrayed inaccurately on the basis of hostile stereotyping, the effect of which is to make this religion seem a threat". Recommendation 5 rejects deterministic views of Islam and recommends against distorted interpretations of religious and cultural history in the curricula of schools and institutions of
higher learning, in particular the portrayal of Islam as hostile and a menace. It calls on Member States to "direct particular attention towards removing unnecessary legal or administrative obstacles to both the construction of sufficient numbers of appropriate places of worship for the practice of Islam and to its funeral rites". Recommendation 5 also calls on Member States to take the necessary measures to ensure that the freedom to practice religion is fully guaranteed.

International Humanist and Ethical Union
46. The International Humanist and Ethical Union expressed concern over the impact of blasphemy legislation on freedom of expression and freedom of religion, including on those who do not practise the predominant religion in a Member State. In this connection, the Union recommends that the study requested by the Human Rights Council in its resolution 7/19 should include both an examination of existing blasphemy laws and an assessment of the implications for human rights of defamation of religion laws.
The Union also recommended that a resolution be tabled calling on States in which blasphemy constitutes a capital offence to remove the death sentence.
the Union suggested that United Nations bodies considering the question of defamation of religions adopt a similar position as the Council of Europe, where freedom of expression is given much greater weight.


67. Some countries have specific laws against the defamation of religion. Of the countries that reported on such laws, there does not appear to be a common understanding of what is considered defamation of religion.
The reported laws address somewhat different phenomena and apply various terms such as contempt, ridicule, outrage and disrespect to connote defamation.
The responses do not provide enough information for an analysis of how these terms are understood or applied. The relationship between these concepts to the international human rights framework related to freedom of religion is also not explicitly addressed.

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