I have the honor to speak on behalf of the European Union to explain our position on the draft resolution contained in document L.35, entitled Defamation of Religions The Candidate Countries Croatia and The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Countries of the Stabilization and Association Process and Potential Candidates Montenegro and Serbia, as well as the Republic of Moldova and Georgia, align themselves with this declaration.
The EU firmly believes in tolerance, non-discrimination, freedom of expression, freedom of thought, and freedom of religion or belief. We are also strongly convinced that a continuing dialogue can help us to overcome existing gaps in perceptions, concepts and ideas. We attach great importance to combating all forms of discrimination based on religion or belief and incitement to religious hatred, and consider that UNGA and the HRC should continue to address these issues, including through a dialogue with the relevant special procedures.
The EU agrees with the need to raise concern and alarm on the serious instances of intolerance, discrimination and acts of violence based on religion or belief, intimidation and coercion motivated by extremism, occurring throughout the world. A comprehensive and balanced approach is needed in order to combat intolerance efficiently. We reiterate that the problem of religious intolerance is worldwide and not limited to certain regions or certain religions or beliefs. Followers of all religions and beliefs, as well as non-believers, can be victims of human rights violations. Any list of victims can only be exclusive.
Several resolutions directly discussed in the Plenary relate to culture, peace and religions. A Third Committee resolution should be clearly focused on human rights, based on specific human rights concepts and have a rights-based approach to issues at hand. The concerns set out in the draft resolution on “Combating Defamation of Religions” and its predecessors amount to religious intolerance. The fight against religious intolerance has always been a core element of the UN’s human rights agenda, and had been addressed specifically in the General Assembly for over thirty years.
The European Union does not see the concept of “defamation of religions” as a valid one in a human rights discourse. From a human rights perspective, members of religious or belief communities should not be viewed as parts of homogenous entities. International human rights law protects primarily individuals in the exercise of their freedom of religion or belief, rather than the religions as such. Moreover, in most legal systems, “defamation” is a legal concept, which entitles individuals or entities with legal personality redress against slander and libel. Religions or beliefs do not enjoy such legal personality in most States, and so it is difficult to see how “defamation of religions” could be used as a useful concept to promote human rights or provide protection or redress against human rights violations.
In the past, the EU has repeatedly expressed it concerns regarding the general approach, conceptual framework and terminology of this draft resolution. We have stressed that discrimination based on religion or belief, which is a serious human rights violation, has to be addressed in all its aspects; that it should be recognized that it is not confined to any one religion or belief, nor is it confined to any one part of the world; and that the protection of the rights of persons belonging to religious minorities is central to freedom of religion or belief; that it must be ensured that all human rights, including the right to freedom of thought, conscience, expression and religion, are respected and protected at an equal level; and that promoting respect for the adherence to all religions or beliefs is best addressed in a comprehensive manner, as is reflected in other 3rd Committee resolutions and directly at the plenary.
The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Mrs. Asma Jahangir, has herself indicated, including in her report to the present session of the General Assembly, that the use of the concept of defamation of religion could be counterproductive as our main focus should remain the rights and freedoms of individuals.
The EU has repeatedly indicated its willingness to dialogue and to work towards a balanced text and a terminology that could be accepted by all stakeholders. In this regard, it has presented to the cosponsors of this initiative, bilaterally and at the informal consultations held thereon, a series of proposals intended to change the focus of the text from Combating defamation of religions to Combating incitement to religious hatred, as a more widely accepted concept in the field of human rights set out, inter alia, in Article 20 of ICCPR. In view of our known difficulties with the concept of Defamation of Religions, we have emphasized that, for this text to become acceptable to us, all references contained therein to defamation of religions would have to be suppressed.
We recognize that cosponsors of this initiative did take on board some of the language proposals presented by the EU. These amendments did not, however, change significantly the general approach, conceptual framework and terminology of this draft resolution. Our position thereon remains thus unchanged and, for this reason, the European Union will vote against draft resolution L.35.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.