CFI, IHEU Issue Statement on Religious Tolerance at UN Human Rights Council

March 14, 2012

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) and International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) today issued a joint statement at the 19th annual session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva that urged the 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to protect basic human rights in their own countries if they are truly concerned about hostilities toward Muslims. 

Our statement was read by Raheel Raza, an IHEU representative and Muslim activist who lives in Canada.

You can watch Raza deliver the statement here. The speech reads as follows:

Madam President,

We welcome the initiative of the OIC aimed at combating religious intolerance, the so-called Istanbul Process. But we believe the OIC needs to do far more to eliminate the root causes of hostility towards Muslims. Such hostility as exists in the West did not arise in a vacuum -- there is, for example, no equivalent hostility towards Hindus. Much of the hostility is a reaction to how we Muslims are seen: with reports of Muslims killing Christians in Egypt; Sunnis massacring Shias in Pakistan; Shias killing Sunnis and driving Christians from their homes in Iraq; Iran treating Bahais as spies for Israel; the persecution of Ahmadis and Christians in the Punjab; Christianity banned in Saudi Arabia; the heavy penalties for apostasy in many Islamic states; and Afghanistan once again in the hands of men who oppress women.  

One conclusion that can be drawn from the recent Pew Forum report [1] is that the safest place to be a Muslim is in the West. But, while Imams in Europe rail against democracy, against male and female equality, and against rights and freedoms achieved after centuries of struggle against oppression, it should come as no surprise that such calls are greeted with hostility.

Where in all this is there any hope for Islam to be seen as a religion of peace and of respect for human rights?

The Islamic States need to demonstrate their recognition that Human Rights belong to everyone, regardless of race, religion, citizenship, sex or gender identity.

Tolerance, Mr. President, is a two-way street. If the OIC are genuinely seeking greater tolerance towards Islam, we strongly suggest they need to pay far more attention to their problems at home.

Thank you, madam President



CFI once again welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with the IHEU on this project, as the two organizations share many common goals. CFI, like the IHEU, holds special consultative status as a non-governmental organization (NGO) under the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and has for years fought against attempts to restrict basic human rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Our statement comes just months after the UN General Assembly approved a resolution aimed at combating religious intolerance that did not include language referring to the harmful “defamation of religions” concept. In years past, the OIC had pushed successfully for Human Rights Council resolutions urging states to combat the so-called "defamation of religions." The non-binding resolution—which effectively provided cover for blasphemy laws that targeted religious dissidents, religious minorities, and nonbelievers—was passed annually by the 193-nation General Assembly for more than ten years.

However, the Human Rights Council in early 2011 voted unanimously to approve a new resolution that makes no mention of "defamation of religions." This came to fruition in December 2011 when the General Assembly adopted by consensus the new text, which "strongly deplores all acts of violence against persons on the basis of their religion or belief, as well as all attacks on and in religious places, sites and shrines in violation of international law" and calls on countries to take actions "consistent with their obligations under international human rights law, to address and combat such incidents." The new resolution was a major victory for supporters of the open, secular society, though it had its shortcomings.

CFI will continue to work at the UN to ensure that future resolutions and measures are employed to protect all individuals — believers and non-believers alike — without stifling freedom of belief and expression.

You can read more about CFI's work at the UN here