Humanists call for freedom of speech at the UN Human Rights Council

1 March, 2013

Roy Brown, leader of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) delegation to the United Nations Economic and Social Council and member of the British Humanist Association delegation, has called for freedom of expression at the UN Human Rights Council.  His statement was made in reply to the report of the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, which was presented to the UN Human Rights Council today.

Roy Brown’s statement referred to the Rabat Plan of Action, which was presented at an event in Geneva on 21 February, and is intended to prevent incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence.  Roy Brown mentioned a paragraph in the plan which quotes from the Human Rights Committee General Comment no 34 (2011), and which states that blasphemy laws are incompatible with freedom of speech: ‘It would be impermissible for any such laws [Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion] to discriminate in favour of or against one or certain religions or belief systems…or religious believers over non-believers.  Nor would it be permissible for such prohibitions to be used to prevent or punish criticism of religious leaders or commentary on religious doctrine and tenets of faith.’

Roy Brown said: ‘We urge all States, and in particular those pushing for further restrictions on freedom of expression, to accept and implement the Rabat Plan of Action. It would go a very long way to diffusing tensions between those who feel obliged to protect religions and those of us who are more concerned with the protection of human rights.’  He drew attention to the recent IHEU report Freedom of Thought 2012, which documents discrimination against the non-religious around the world.  This report was published on UN Human Rights Day in December last year, and was submitted to the UN Human Rights Council on 25 February.

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the BHA and First Vice-President of IHEU, commented ‘We support freedom of speech and freedom of belief for all people, religious and non-religious.  Roy Brown’s statement today draws attention to violations of freedom of expression against humanists and non-believers in particular, and how blasphemy laws are often used to place restrictions on freedom of speech, and on the ability to criticise religious institutions.

‘To take a few examples: Egyptian atheist blogger Alber Saber received a three-year prison sentence last year for blasphemy and contempt of religion; Sanal Edamaruku, the President of the Indian Rationalists, is still in exile because of the threat of arrest for exposing a fake “miracle”; and the Bangladeshi humanist Taslima Nasrin has lived in exile for nearly twenty years.  Blasphemy laws have no place in a free and democratic society and the abolition of blasphemy laws must form part of efforts to strengthen human rights around the world.’


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Read Roy’s intervention:

The International Humanist and Ethical Union:

The Rabat Plan of Action:

New report shows global discrimination against humanists, atheists and the non-religious:

The Guardian – Atheists face extensive discrimination, UN rights council told:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.