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In the Name of Freedom of Speech

Ban-ki Moon is not the only one criticising international organisations such as the UN’s Human Rights Council for trying to curb free speech in the name of the fight against “defamation of religions” and “blasphemy” laws. A group of freedom of expression rapporteurs from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the UN, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), have adopted a declaration reiterating the need to respect freedom of speech.

Interestingly, the Declaration correctly questions the validity of moves to combat “defamation of religions” given the lack of definition of such terms in international law. The Declaration notes that

“[T]he concept of ‘defamation of religions’ does not accord with international standards regarding defamation, which refer to the protection of reputation of individuals, while religions, like all beliefs, cannot be said to have a reputation of their own.”

The rapporteurs explain that laws and declarations invoked to counter so-called “defamation of religions” are often harboured in an interest in shielding powerful religious institutions from criticism rather than a deep-felt concern for religious intolerance.

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