Jeddah (UNA-OIC) – The General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has joined the international community in commemorating the 10th anniversary of the UN Resolution 16/18.
In a statement issued on Monday, the General Secretariat hailed the resolution as a triumph for multilateralism, a milestone achievement in the OIC and UN’s efforts to combat incitement to hatred, discrimination, stigmatization and violence based on religion or belief. It also called for all-out efforts to preserve international consensus by avoiding double standards and embracing diversity of views and approaches.
The General Secretariat endorses the views of the UN Special Rapporteurs expressed in their statement of 23rd March 2021 that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and growth of social media, while aggravating religious intolerance and discrimination in some parts of the world, has further exacerbated the existing debate on the limits of Freedom of expression (FoE) and Freedom of religion and belief (FoRB), the statement reads.
The OIC also echoes the importance placed by these experts on the Eight-points Action-plan of Resolution 16/18 that provides a roadmap of concrete actions needed to combat the menace of incitement to hatred, discrimination and religion-based violence. Here, it is pertinent to mention that these Eight-points, put forward by OIC, have become the cornerstone of international consensus in the decades-old struggle to combat incitement to religious hatred.
However, the General Secretariat regrets the remarks of these experts on Art. 21 of the Cairo Declaration of the OIC on Human Rights (CDOHR) in the above-referred statement, and considers these as out of context, narrow and without due regard to the socio-cultural particularities and religious sensitivities of a cross-regional group. On the contrary, the OIC has always strived to engage in a frank, open and constructive discussion to help find practical solutions to sensitive issues that could be universally applied across different legal regimes. Both the steering of Res.16/18 and adoption of the revised Cairo Declaration are indicators of OIC’s constructive approach. Also, the Rabat Plan of Action clarifies that the threshold for limitations to FoE must be very high and precisely defined, as is done in the case of Art. 21 of the CDOHR, in keeping with the relevant provisions of international human rights law.
In line with the spirit of FoE, OIC believes in the tolerance of critical public statements and debates, including about religious teachings and beliefs, provided such criticism is constructive and does not lead to incitement to religious hatred, discriminates against adherents of any religion, or disturbs public order.
Incidents such as blasphemous caricatures or burning of the Quran, etc. are simply an example of bigotry and hatred meant only to ridicule and denigrate millions of devout Muslims, thus an antithesis to all freedoms.
Considering that religion is one of the fundamental elements in one’s conception of life and identity, denigration of religions for many of their followers becomes a direct assault on their own selves, constituting an extreme form of racial-religious discrimination. If this campaign were to continue unchecked, it would lend more ground to normalizing the growing intolerance towards Muslims, and to legitimatize the imposition of discriminatory legislative and administrative measures on their right to observe their religion in many parts of the world. A practice becoming increasingly common by putting curbs on religious dress codes, construction of mosques and even ban on the burial of the deceased or providing religious education, otherwise guaranteed under international human rights law. Such discriminatory measures are creating more than psychological barriers that impede the ability to observe, practice and manifest one’s religion freely, a matter that might ultimately result in social disharmony and violation of human rights.
The OIC reiterates that while FoE is a key human right, vital for the development of stable, peaceful and progressive democratic societies, its scope as provided in Article 21 of CDOHR, Article 19 of UDHR, Articles 19 & 20 of the ICCPR and other regional human rights instruments stipulate that this right is not ‘absolute’ rather its exercise is subject to ‘special duties and corresponding responsibilities’ based on ‘avoidance of harm to others’ to ensure societal cohesion.
The international human rights framework provides that FoE and FoRB can and should be complementary and indeed mutually reinforcing. There is ample jurisprudence, even within the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) that allows significant diversity in how States address hate speech and insults to religions, beliefs and believers within defined parameters regulated by the relevant international conventions. To this end, States are afforded a margin of appreciation to decide whether and how to protect religious convictions and beliefs, which gratuitously offends religious sensibilities , to fulfill their obligations under human rights treaties . In addition to specific restrictions on FoE in Article 19(3), Article 20 of the ICCPR provides examples of expressions that States must prohibit, in all circumstances. Further, based on the ‘principle of intersectionality’, due attention should be given to Article 4 of CERD, which obligates States to criminalize the incitement to racial and religious hatred.
The OIC considers that agendas against incitement to religious hatred can only be credible if they are all-inclusive to address the concerns of all religious communities.
The underlying reason for Res.16/18 was the necessity to address the core issue of growing incitement to hatred and discrimination based on religion, through a consensual approach that shuns the ideological divide and suggests an action-oriented policy framework to define and criminalize hate speech. To this end, OIC recognizes with appreciation the positive role played by all its international partners who helped in building and maintaining this consensual framework and in extending support to its adoption. While there may be differences of opinion on finer aspects of specific points in the Action Plan, there is a general agreement that it should not restrict the implementation of other agreed points. At the same time, it is of crucial importance to ensure full and effective implementation of the Action Plan by States in their domestic jurisdictions within the scope of Articles 18, 19 and 20 of ICCPR.
In conclusion, the OIC urges the international community to use the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity for unity and harmony among all faiths to achieve global peace. Both the FoE and FoRB are to be protected in their internal and external aspects. Limitation clauses should not be used in ways that negate freedoms but advocacy of hatred is to be prohibited at all cost.
 Surek v. Turkey (No 1) 1999-IV GC para 61
 Otto-Preminger Institut v. Austria, Wingrove v. UK & I.A. v Turkey 2005-VIII; 45 EHRR 703 para.s 29-30.