Blasphemy laws fuel religious intolerance, Humanists UK tells UN

25 September, 2023

Humanists UK has raised its concerns about a divisive resolution on ‘Countering religious hatred constituting incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence’ that was adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in July. The resolution was introduced by Pakistan and Palestine in light of recent Quran burnings in Denmark and Sweden. Humanists UK warned the UN that the resolution ‘evokes the language of anti-blasphemy laws’, and that ‘there is no basis to protect venerated objects under international law.’

Humanists UK reminded the Council that in 2011 it had adopted the well-balanced resolution 16/18 on the same subject by consensus after long deliberations. Humanists UK expressed its support for resolution 16/18 and its dismay that the Council had adopted a contested resolution that falls short of the longstanding consensus on how to tackle religious intolerance in line with international law.

The intervention was made via video by Humanists UK’s Campaigns Manager Kathy Riddick. She stated:

‘Humanists UK shares the Council’s alarm at the rise in hatred, violence, and discrimination against persons on the basis of their religion or belief. We abhor expressions of religious hatred and incitement to violence.

‘The rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, or belief, and to freedom of opinion and expression, are mutually reinforcing. The exchange of ideas is necessary for a tolerant society to flourish because it allows for religious hatred to be challenged.

‘[The new resolution] evokes the language of anti-blasphemy laws by repeatedly equating the desecration of sacred books and religious symbols with manifestations of religious hatred. However, there is no basis to protect venerated objects under international law. International law does not protect religious feelings from offence, nor does it protect religion or belief itself per se.

‘The human rights framework is there to provide protections for the person. We support the need for renewed commitment to protect persons from incitement to violence or religious hatred in line with international law.’

The intervention urged the UN Human Rights Council to dedicate enough time to properly frame its recommitment to combating religious hatred and incitement to violence in line with the well-balanced consensus of its previous resolution 16/18.


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 020 3675 0959.

Read the full intervention.

Read the well-balanced resolution 16/18, adopted by consensus.

Read more about our international work 

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 110,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.