Center for Inquiry Spotlights Freedom of Conscience at 34th Session of UN Human Rights Council

March 28, 2017

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) focused on the right to freedom of conscience and engaged on a number of important resolutions at the 34th regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, held February 27-March 24, 2017, in Geneva, Switzerland. 

Over the course of the Council session, CFI’s main representative to the UN, Michael De Dora, wrote and delivered six oral statements for the organization:

  • “Preventing Terrorism by Protecting Cultural Rights” (PDF
  • “Advancing Freedom of Religion or Belief” (PDF | VIDEO)
  • “Beliefs, Individuals, and Rights” (PDF | VIDEO
  • “The Human Rights Situation in the United States” (PDF | VIDEO
  • “The Right and Access to Reproductive Health Care” (PDF)
  • “Speech and Counter-Speech” (PDF | VIDEO)

CFI also co-sponsored a statement on artistic expression drafted by Freemuse (which was delivered by Michael De Dora), and a statement on cultural rights drafted and delivered by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development. 

In addition to these statements, De Dora attended negotiations with member states and leading human rights groups on several important resolutions under consideration at the 34th session: 

  • A Norway-led resolution to renew the mandate of the special rapporteur on human rights defenders (passed by consensus).
  • An Egypt-led resolution on the impact of terrorism on human rights, which “Calls on states to promote ... respect for all religions, religious values, beliefs and cultures” (passed 28-15).
  • A European Union-led resolution to renew the mandate of the special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief (passed by consensus).
  • A Brazil and Germany-led resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age (passed by consensus).
  • A United States-led resolution to renew the mandate of the special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression (passed by consensus).
  • A European Union-led resolution on human rights in Myanmar, including a fact finding mission (passed by consensus).
  • An Organization of Islamic Cooperate-led resolition on combating intolerance and incitement to violence against persons based on religion or belief (passed by consensus).  

CFI was amongst nearly 100 organizations to join a letter urging members of the Council to reject hostile amendments to the resolution on human rights defenders. In the end, all of the amendments — which were proposed by Russia, China, Cuba, and Pakistan — were soundly defeated. CFI also raised concerns with a number of members states regarding the troubling language in the Egypt-led resolution on terrorism and human rights. Unfortunately, our efforts did not lead to change. 

CFI also co-organized, with the International Humanist and Ethical Union an official side event on blasphemy laws in a digital age. Speakers included  Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Joelle Fiss, independent researcher and consultant, and author of 2016 Brookings Institution report “Anti-Blasphemy in the Digital age: When Hardliners Take Over”; Kacem El Ghazzali, Moroccan-born writer and activist; Alber Saber, Egyptian-born computer science student and blogger; Azam Khan, Bangladeshi-born blogger and activist; and Elizabeth O’Casey, Director of Advocacy for the IHEU.

Organizers and speakers at the CFI and IHEU side event.

In addition, CFI co-sponsored a side event on the impact of fundamentalism and extremism on human rights, featuring the UN special rapporteur on cultural rights, Karima Bennoune. You can watch video of that event here

The UN Human Rights Council meets three times each year to consider and debate resolutions and issues related to fundamental human rights. You can learn more about CFI’s work at the UN here.