Humanists at UN highlight freedom of religion or belief and the rights of non believers worldwide

Humanists at UN highlight freedom of religion or belief and the rights of non believers worldwide

Posted on the 20/06/17

On 20th June, the European Humanist Federation, together with the International Humanist and Ethical Union, urged UN member states to better protect freedom of religion or belief including non-believers’ rights worldwide as a way to foster mutual understanding.

This declaration was made during the 35th Session on the UNHuman Rights Council* in a debate on the eradication of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance (Durban declaration and programme of action).

Intolerance and violence do not only hit/affect religious people. The EHF and IHEU highlighted several cases where people and human rights defenders suffered from extreme violence or death for expressing their non-religious views.

Both organisations called the Council to promote freedom of religion or belief, including the freedom not to believe in combatting intolerance worldwide.

You can read our full statement below.


UN Human Rights Council, 35th Session (6th June – 23rd June 2017)

General Debate on Item 9: Follow-up and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action

Joint statement by the International Humanist and Ethical Union and the European Humanist Federation

Julie Pernet

The Durban Declaration recognises the central role religion and belief can play in the “dignity and worth of the human person and to the eradication of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”

Manifesting one’s religion or belief can include instrumentalisation of religion by another for political gain, and challenging ideas where one sees abuse.

In April, Ahmad Al Shamri was sentenced to death after his appeal against charges of ‘atheism and blasphemy’ was denied in Saudi Arabia.

In May, Christian governor of Jakarta, Ahok, was sentenced to two years in prison on charges of blasphemy after he tried to address attacks from Muslim hard-liners who argued that the Quran prohibited Muslims from voting for a non-Muslim.

This month in Bangladesh, human rights defender Sultana Kamal was publicly threatened with extreme violence by Islamist group, who misrepresented the comments she made during a TV talk show.

Last week in Pakistan, Taimoor Raza, was accused of making a post that made “derogatory” remarks about the Prophet Mohammad on Facebook and sentenced with death.

You cannot end intolerance based on religion or belief by selectively silencing speech of religious and non-religious people. In some cases, just the advocacy of one’s belief might be construed or received as a criticism of another’s beliefs; that is the small price we pay for protecting freedom of religion or belief, free expression, and the promotion of mutual understanding for strengthening tolerance.

We urge the Coucil to bear in mind the crucial role of respecting articles 18 and 19 of the ICCPR in combatting intolerance.


*The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.

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