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Expert seminar on the links between articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR): Freedom of expression and advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence


(2-3 October 2008, Geneva, Palais des Nations, Room XXI)

Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Expert Seminar (A/HRC/10/31/Add.3): E F S A C R

Press Release: World experts meet to discuss Freedom of Expression and Advocacy of Religious Hatred

ABOUT THE MEETING

1. Objectives of the meeting

The objective of the meeting is twofold: first, it should address the underlying human rights concerns behind “defamation of religions”, presenting an approach based on human rights law; second, it should ensure a sound legal interpretation of articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR. It will explore legal limitations to freedom of expression and the mandatory prohibition of advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, as means to protect individuals and groups. It is hoped that, as a result, the seminar will be able to offer guidance on how to address these issues in increasingly multicultural societies. Exchange of best practices and comparative legislative and judicial approaches are also among the objectives of the meeting.

2. General context and approach of the meeting

Whereas a series of freedom of expression related incidents continue to polarise societies, create tensions and fuel xenophobia and racist attitudes, genuine substantive ambiguities exist as to the demarcation line between freedom of expression and hate speech, especially in relation to religious issues.

The expert meeting will address freedom of expression in the context of advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence within the framework of articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR 1/. The approach is to focus the debate on a purely human rights law perspective, based on the existing norms.

3. Format

The format will be that of an open expert meeting, with the participation of observers such as Member States, other UN agencies, regional organizations and NGOs. Observers will be invited to ask questions at the end of each session following the discussion by the experts.

4. Topics

The meeting will consist of four panels on the following topics:

a. The international legal framework and the interrelatedness between articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR and States’ obligations.

What protection does international law provide on this issue, and how has it been interpreted by international, regional and national bodies? What are the scope and links between the prohibitions and limitations contained in articles 19 and 20? Are articles 19 and 20 an indivisible whole? In particular, what are the differences and links between permissible limitations under article 19 (3), in particular when it comes to restrictions aimed at protecting the rights of others, and States’ obligations under article 20 (2)?

b. Limits to the restrictions to freedom of expression – Criteria and application.

Criteria: The prohibition of incitement to hatred and discrimination must respect the requirements posed in article 19 (3) when it comes to restrictions on the right to freedom of expression. What are those requirements, as interpreted today by human rights mechanisms?

Application: How are the limitations enforced? How have new technologies and media impacted freedom of expression and the advocacy of religious hatred?

c. Analysis of the notion of advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence

Criteria: What are the criteria and definition for advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence? How are these criteria assessed and should the historical context of article 20 of the ICCPR be considered in interpreting whether there has been a violation?

Application: Under which circumstances could criticism of a religion fall within the scope of article 20 ICCPR? What does this imply in relation to freedom of expression, in particular artistic freedom? To what extent does the promotion of freedom of expression require States to punish advocacy of religious hatred which constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence?

Should the prohibition of advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence fall under civil or criminal legislation? What kind of redress should be afforded to victims?

d. Analogies and parallels with other types of “incitement”

Are there parallels to be drawn from experiences of limitation of freedom of expression in other contexts (e.g., obscenity laws, defamation laws, denial laws, etc.) that could help deepen the analysis of the issue? How can we use analyses of incitement to genocide, national hatred, racial hatred, etc. to better understand advocacy of religious hatred under article 20 of the ICCPR? To what extent does ICERD provide protection against advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence?


Article 19 of the ICCPR provides that:“1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.”

Article 20 of the ICCPR provides that:

“1. Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.
2. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”