‘Hypocrisy of the highest order’: BHA calls on UN Human Rights Council members to end support for blasphemy laws

17 March, 2015

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has called for the repeal of blasphemy laws to an audience of United Nations member states, as part of the 28th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

The UNHRC is the inter-governmental body for human rights issues around the world, and the 28th session, which began last week, has been heavily focused on issues of freedom of expression and freedom of belief, as enshrined in Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The 28th session closely follows a report from Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, on violence committed in the name of religion, as well as weeks of regular international media coverage focusing on the religiously motivated terror attacks in Paris and Copenhagen. Bielefeldt’s report recognised that ‘the main problem in a number of countries stems from the State’s failure in combating terrorism or violence of non-State actors’, adding that ‘certain State agencies in other countries support such violence directly or indirectly.’

In a speech to the assembled nations of the UNHRC, BHA delegate Amelia Cooper said that blasphemy laws are the ‘embodiment’ of these shortcomings, and that their continued presence stands as an affront to international law and freedom of belief.

The BHA, which is a partner organisation in the International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws, has said that these laws have leant credibility to extrajudicial acts of violence, such as the mass riots in Pakistan which followed an alleged desecration of a Koran, resulting in six deaths, and the assassinations of officials Rashid Rehman, Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti.

As well as condemning states for tacitly sanctioning these crimes by failing to respond to them, the BHA pointed out:

‘It must also be noted that encoding corporal punishment for blasphemy convictions is nothing less than State violence in the name of religion. Four of the 13 states which punish apostasy or blasphemy with the death penalty are current members of this Council, and are thus mandated to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”. This is hypocrisy of the highest order.’

The BHA’s statement comes amid continuing abuses perpetrated against those deemed to have blasphemed. Avijit Roy was murdered last month after advocating for greater freedom of expression in Bangledesh, while Raif Badawi remains imprisoned in Saudi Arabia where he is being subjected to a punishment of 1,000 lashes for the crime of insulting Islam.

Legal restriction on freedom of thought, particularly affecting the non-religious, is widespread throughout the world, as shown by the latest Freedom of Thought Report, a global survey of laws affecting the non-religious and freedom of expression which is researched and published each year by the International Humanist and Ethical Union. In 13 countries, non-religious people face the very real threat of a death penalty if they do not live a lie and pretend to be religious.

Given these heinous restrictions on freedom of expression, which are often exploited by states to justify persecution of non-religious people and those of minority religions, the BHA has stressed its support for a UNHRC resolution to expressly forbid the ‘discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief.’


For further comment or information contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal at pavan@humanists.uk or on 0773 843 5059.

Read the BHA intervention: https://humanists.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015-03-17-v1-AC-hrc28-item4GD-blasphemy.pdf

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.