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HUMAN RIGHTS EXPERTS CALL FOR TOLERANCE AND DIALOGUE IN WAKE OF CONTROVERSY OVER REPRESENTATIONS OF PROPHET MUHAMMAD

8 February 2006

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Doudou Diene; the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir, and the Special Rapporteur for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Ambeyi Ligabo, issued the following statement today:

In light of the recent offensive publication of representations of the Prophet Muhammad by the media in some countries, and the serious reactions it has prompted in various parts of the world, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and the Special Rapporteur for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, who have carefully followed the situation in the past months, make a special call for tolerance and dialogue.

The Special Rapporteurs recall that religion or belief, for anyone who professes either, is one of the fundamental elements in his or her conception of life and that freedom of religion or belief is protected as one of the essential rights by Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). They also recall that respect for the right to freedom of expression, as articulated in Article 19 ICCPR, constitutes a pillar of democracy and reflects a country’s standard of justice and fairness. While both rights should be equally respected, the exercise of the right to freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It requires good judgment, tolerance and a sense of responsibility.

Peaceful expression of opinions and ideas, either orally, through the press or other media, should always be tolerated. The press must enjoy large editorial freedom to promote a free flow of news and information, within and across national borders, thus providing an arena for debate and dialogue. Nevertheless, the use of stereotypes and labeling that insult deep-rooted religious feelings do not contribute to the creation of an environment conducive to constructive and peaceful dialogue among different communities. Such dialogue that can nurture mutual understanding and respect in the spirit of Article 7 of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination is all the more necessary as societies become more diverse and access to information more global.

The Special Rapporteurs strongly deplore the depictions of the Prophet Muhammad and are distressed by the grave offence they have caused to the members of the Muslim community.

They are equally concerned by the reactions that followed the publications, including those acts of violence and intolerance that have targeted members of different religious communities. They strongly condemn death threats against journalists and intimidation of the media as well as the loss of lives, threats and other forms of violence that have occurred over the past few days, often directed at people with no responsibility for, or control over, the publications.

The Special Rapporteurs urge all parties to refrain from any form of violence and to avoid fuelling hatred. They also encourage States to promote the interrelated and indivisible nature of human rights and freedoms and to advocate the use of legal remedies as well as the pursuance of a peaceful dialogue on matters which go to the heart of all multicultural societies.