MORNING / MIDDAY
Concludes Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteurs on Torture and on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography
GENEVA (9 March 2016) - The Human Rights Council this morning held a clustered interactive dialogue with Joseph Cannataci, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, and with Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. It also concluded its clustered interactive dialogue with Juan Ernesto Mendez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
Mr. Cannataci, addressing the Council for the first time, said that digital technology had resulted in a huge impact on privacy, and States had the duty to protect citizens against illegitimate and disproportionate infringements from authorities and corporations. In his mandate, he would work to encourage the global community to be inquisitive, frank and open about what was really going on in cyberspace, including the realities of mass surveillance, cyber-espionage and cyberwar. The potential for the development of international law relevant to privacy should be explored in all forms.
Mr. Bielefeldt said that freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression were two closely interrelated rights. Only by focusing on human beings as rights holders could freedom of religion or belief do justice to the broad variety of religious and non-religious convictions, identities and practices, without singling out one religion or belief. He spoke of his country visits to Lebanon and Bangladesh.
Lebanon and Bangladesh spoke as concerned countries
During the ensuing dialogue, speakers concurred with the view that freedom of expression and freedom of religion were mutually reinforcing and were crucial to democratic societies. Several speakers insisted on the fact that freedom of expression was not unlimited, and that its exercise should not undermine the rights of other individuals and be turned into hate speech or religious intolerance. Other speakers stressed the importance of repealing blasphemy laws, which were often misused to mistreat persons belonging to religious minorities. Most speakers underlined the importance of education and interfaith dialogue in combatting intolerance and extremism.
Speakers expressed support to Mr. Cannataci in the exercise of his mandate, and noted the importance of protecting the right to privacy, particularly in the digital age. Several speakers expressed deep concern at the negative impact that surveillance and interception of communications, including extraterritorial surveillance and interception of communication, as well as the collection of data, in particular when carried out on a mass scale, may have on the right to privacy.
Speaking during the dialogue were European Union, Brazil on behalf of Austria, Brazil, Germany, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Norway and Switzerland, Kuwait on behalf of the Arab Group, Dominican Republic on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Germany, Georgia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Russian Federation, Portugal, Italy, Algeria, Ireland, Ecuador, United States, Spain, Egypt, Denmark, Cyprus, Pakistan, Montenegro, Council of Europe, Poland, Turkey, Tunisia, Qatar, Cuba, China, Botswana, Indonesia, Brazil, Austria, Australia, Libya, Tajikistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Albania, Holy See, Switzerland, Norway, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Sovereign Military Order of Malta, United Kingdom, Venezuela, South Africa, Sudan, France, Romania, Senegal, Latvia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Paraguay, Belgium and Morocco.
The following non-governmental organizations took the floor: Privacy International, World Evangelical Alliance, Association Miraisme International, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Amnesty International, European Union of Public Relations, Shia Rights Watch, Centre for Inquiry, British Humanist Association, Al-Khoei Foundation, Jubilee Campaign in a joint statement with Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Article 19, Iraqi Development Organization, International Fellowship of Reconciliation, World Barua Organization and Alliance Defending Freedoms.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its clustered interactive dialogue with Juan Ernesto Mendez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. The two Rapporteurs presented their reports to the Council on Tuesday, 8 March. A summary of their comments and the first part of the interactive dialogue with them can be found here.
In the interactive dialogue, speakers raised a number of cases of torture and ill-treatment against persons deprived of their liberty, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, and urged States to establish independent mechanisms for monitoring detention facilities.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Mendez said that thematic reports did not aim to discuss what had been agreed upon, but rather to flag up areas where there needed to be consensus and normative agreement on torture and ill-treatment. The intention was not to give priority to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, but to give them the same status as all other victims. Prison overcrowding did not amount to torture but could lead to cruel and inhuman treatment. The privatisation of prisons posed risks, such as the lack of transparency and accountability.
In her concluding remarks, Ms. de Boer-Buquicchio said that complex supply chains were no excuse for an absence of oversight. The market for smuggling of migrants should be taken over by official efforts, and identification, registration and documentation should be accomplished within 72 hours of arrival. She fully endorsed the report of the independent review panel on the United Nations response to allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic, including its call for granting host countries jurisdiction to prosecute these cases.
Speaking were: Associacao Brasileira de Gays, Lesbicas e Transgeneros, Defence for Children International, United Schools International, Aliran Kesedaran Negara National Consciousness Movement, American Civil Liberties Union, International Association for Democracy in Africa and International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
At 2 p.m., the Council will hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteurs on Torture and on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography
Associacao Brasileira de Gays, Lesbicas e Transgeneros said that lowering the number of inmates and limiting pre-trial detention was necessary to put an end to torture against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in detention, and urged Brazil to truly engage in implementing the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on torture. Defence for Children International said that regular visits to places of detention was key in preventing torture, and called in that regard on Member States to establish independent monitoring mechanisms to monitor places of detention for children. United Schools International said that in 2015, reports had surfaced that about 100 Christians imprisoned in Pakistan had been subjected to torture by police officers. “North Korea” was the most harshly repressive country in the world. Aliran Kesedaran Negara National Consciousness Movement drew the Council’s attention to torture in Malaysia, and highlighted the case of Khalid Ismath, a former student activist and human rights defender who was arrested, detained and ill-treated. Malaysia should repeal the draconian Security Offences Act 2012.
American Civil Liberties Union condemned the lack of accountability for torture committed by the United States’ Bush administration, and said that it was outrageous that the United States did not allow visits to its detention facilities. International Association for Democracy in Africa said that torture was used in Pakistan to oppress opposition and curb the voice of dissent, and it had been used against the Baloch people. It expressed concerns about horrific mistreatment perpetrated in “North Korea”. International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination condemned the use of children as objects of abuse and harm. That tragedy had been made possible as a result of ongoing lawlessness and conflict, leaving a vacuum in security for criminal elements. It called for an increase in cyber security and the security organs of various States to act upon any leads to crimes of that nature.
Concluding Remarks by the Special Rapporteurs on Torture and on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography
JUAN ERNESTO MENDEZ, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, in concluding remarks, said that thematic reports did not aim to discuss what had been agreed upon, but rather to flag up areas where there needed to be consensus and normative agreement on torture and ill-treatment. The principles of discrimination and equality were broadly accepted by the international community, including gender equality. The prohibition of torture and ill-treatment on any basis was an absolute one. There was only an illusion that he was creating a hierarchy of victims. On the contrary, he was signalling harmful behaviour and attitudes. The intention was not to give priority to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, but to give them the same status as all other victims. Mr. Mendez also explained that prison overcrowding could lead to cruel and inhuman treatment, but it did not amount to torture. Indefinite detention should not be applied to minors, persons with mental disabilities, and pregnant or breastfeeding women. If there was an intention to apply such treatment, then it would be equivalent to torture. As for communications with States, facts would be taken as true, unless there were answers provided by States. Speaking of the strengthening of the “Nelson Mandela Rules,” it would be useful to hold a new debate on how prisoners were treated, specifically lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, and female prisoners. As for prevention mechanisms in armed conflict, the mandate could be extended to various violations in the conflict context. However, the problematic area was communication with non-State actors where there was no appropriate interlocutor. Mr. Mendez underlined that it was crucial for States to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. Responding to questions by non-governmental organizations, he clarified that his mandate was monitoring several prisons in Brazil. The privatisation of prisons posed risks, such as the lack of transparency and accountability, and general standards of living. Speaking about Mexico, the Special Rapporteur said he had been in contact with the Government and sadly there would be no invitation to his mandate.
MAUD DE BOER-BUQUICCHIO, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, in concluding remarks, said that country visits were essential tools in assisting Member States in combatting abuse and strengthening national child protection. On the question of demand, she addressed the private sector’s role as an intermediary, which was particularly important in the area of information and communications technologies. If there was a lack of cooperation, it was essential for the Government to step in, so standards were implemented through national legislation. Complex supply chains were no excuse for an absence of oversight. She noted that a number of delegations had referred to migrant children, who were particularly vulnerable, adding that she supported the approach of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. The market for smuggling should be taken over by official efforts, and identification, registration and documentation should be accomplished within 72 hours of arrival. Turning to the issue of sex offender registries, she said they could be an important tool in preventing sex offenders, adding that cooperation with Interpol could prevent traveling sex offenders from committing crimes abroad. Regarding self-generated sexual material of children, exceptions from prosecution should be possible in some areas where children were prosecuted as sex offenders even though they had never had criminal purposes. She said she fully endorsed the report of the independent review panel on the United Nations response to allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic, including the report’s call for granting host countries jurisdiction to prosecute sexual violence by peacekeepers. The safety of the children should come first.
The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy (A/HRC/31/64).
The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief (A/HRC/31/18).
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief - Mission to Lebanon (A/HRC/31/18/Add.1).
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief - Mission to Bangladesh (A/HRC/31/18/Add.2).
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief - Mission to Lebanon – comments by the State (A/HRC/31/18/Add.3). Available in Arabic only.
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief - Mission to Bangladesh – comments by the State (A/HRC/31/18/Add.4).
Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Privacy and on Freedom of Religion or Belief
JOSEPH CANNATACI, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, addressing the Council for the first time, said that privacy had never been more at the forefront of political, judicial and individual consciousness than in 2016. There was no binding and universally accepted definition of privacy. Privacy was an enabling right, as opposed to being an end in itself, and had to be considered in the context of its usefulness in enabling a human being to develop his or her personality in the freest of manners. Digital technology had resulted in a huge impact on enabling rights – privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of access to information – offline and online. Further technology as well as legal frameworks had to be developed in order to ensure that human dignity remained at the centre of societal development. One of the necessities was to develop “safeguards without borders” and “remedies across borders”. It was the duty of States to protect the fundamental rights of their citizens against illegitimate and disproportionate infringements, regardless of whether they came from authorities themselves or corporations using personal data to create economic profits. Additionally, the cross-border dimension of modern information technology made it clear that there was a need for a common approach to these developments.
In order to facilitate the process of further elaboration on the dimensions of the right to privacy and its relationship with other human rights, Mr. Cannataci would work on developing a better, more detailed and more universal understanding of the right to privacy in the twenty-first century. He would seek to increase awareness amongst citizens in order to help them understand what privacy was, how their personal data had been monetised and what were the existing safeguards and remedies. The establishment of a more structured, open, comprehensive, effective and permanent dialogue between the different stakeholders was crucial. The Special Rapporteur would encourage a comprehensive approach to legal, procedural and operational safeguards and remedies, and would continue to promote the development of effective technical safeguards including encryption, overlay software and various other technical solutions where privacy-by-design was genuinely put into practice. Mr. Cannataci said that an important dimension of his mandate was to dialogue with the corporate world, to work in close cooperation with Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners worldwide, and to listen to representatives of civil society. He would work to encourage the global community to be inquisitive, frank and open about what was really going on in cyberspace, including the realities of mass surveillance, cyber-espionage and cyberwar. These issues would be a constant feature of his future reports as well as in many of his country visits. The potential for the development of international law relevant to privacy should be explored in all forms, he concluded.
HEINER BIELEFELDT, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, noted that there was a misperception that the freedom of expression and the freedom of religion or belief stood in general opposition to each other. The idea might be that while freedom of expression signalled a “green light” to all sorts of provocations, including in the area of religion, freedom of religion or belief seemed to function as a “stop sign” once religious sensitivities entered the picture. Mr. Bielefeldt explained that his report went against such antagonistic perceptions and sought to contribute to a holistic understanding of freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression as two closely interrelated rights. Legal recognition in the framework of human rights could not immediately be accorded to the particular contents of religions or belief, but only to human beings as the responsible agents who held, cherished, developed and tried to live in accordance with their convictions. Only by focusing on human beings as rights holders could freedom of religion or belief do justice to the broad variety of religious and non-religious convictions, identities and practices, without singling out one religion or belief. Like freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief was a right to freedom, which facilitated the flourishing of free and democratic societies. Due to the specific status of freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression as inalienable rights, the onus of proof always fell on those who argued on behalf of limitations, not on those who wished to exercise their freedom. Any attempt to combat religious intolerance, stereotyping, stigmatization, discrimination and incitement to violence based on religion or belief should thus make use of both rights as seen in conjunction.
Speaking of his country visits, Mr. Bielefeldt said that the most striking feature of Lebanon was its unique religious landscape in a region troubled by violence, often committed in the name of religion. The religious diversity was a visible and audible reality. There were 18 recognized denominations of religion in the country, as well as unrecognized communities such as the Baha’is, Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons and many thousands of Buddhists and Hindus who remained quite invisible to the people in the country. There seemed to exist a broad agreement in the Lebanese society that the diversity of religions and beliefs deserved to be cherished, defended and further developed. There were still some challenges to the development of interreligious coexistence. The cautious approach taken to preserve existing interreligious balance via political confessionalism had its flip side. In the current system, those who decided to disaffiliate themselves from religions risked being excluded from various career opportunities, social or political benefits. Civil marriage was still not possible in Lebanon and the complicated religious family laws tended to disadvantage women.
Turning to Bangladesh, Mr. Bielefeldt said that inter-religious diversity and coexistence was a very tangible feature of Bangladesh, where a vast majority of Muslims (some 90 per cent) lived together with Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and followers of indigenous religions and other minorities. The principle of secularism provided a normative framework for accommodating religious and belief-related pluralism. However, inconsistencies in the application of the principle of secularism could be found already at the level of the Constitution, which proclaimed Islam as the State religion. Restrictive legislative and administrative measures had led to shrinking space for religious or political dissent and frank public discourse. There had also been a series of attacks on various religious minorities since November 2015.
Statements by Concerned Countries
Bangladesh, speaking as a concerned country, said that Mr. Bielefeld’s report had rightly pointed out that religious pluralism was “deeply rooted” in Bangladesh, adding that the provision of “non-discrimination on the ground of religion” was guaranteed as a fundamental right under the Constitution. The Government had never endorsed the views of certain extremist groups who considered Ahmadis as non-Muslims, and was committed to bringing to justice the perpetrators of recent murders of online activists. He reviewed other details of the report, such as Government action regarding Hindu property issues, violence against the Buddhist community, and madrassas and other religious schools. The Government of Bangladesh was deeply committed to ensuring an atmosphere where people from all faiths could fearlessly exercise their rights.
Lebanon, speaking as a concerned country, expressed appreciation for the report following the Rapporteur’s March visit to Lebanon, adding that as he had observed, religious plurality went beyond recognized faiths in Lebanon, which had an exceptional culture of people living together. In Lebanon, citizens could adopt and change religion as they wished, and at a time of crisis, Lebanon was showing resilience to what he called “earthquakes” currently shaking the region. Having opened its borders to Syrians since the beginning of the crisis, refugees had been welcomed on a humanitarian basis without taking into account any demographic categories. While fair on a number of issues, the report did not take into account the difficult situation Lebanon was currently under.
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Privacy and on Freedom of Religion or Belief
European Union asked how the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy intended to contribute to a common understanding of what could be done in the United Nations human rights framework with regards to the right to privacy. The European Union recommended that States developed policies to respond to acts of intolerance, violence and discrimination that prioritized non-restrictive communicative interventions where possible. Brazil, speaking on behalf of Austria, Brazil, Germany, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Norway and Switzerland, expressed deep concern at the negative impact that surveillance and interception of communications, including extraterritorial surveillance and interception of communication, as well as the collection of data, in particular when carried out on a mass scale, may have on human rights, particularly on the right to privacy. Kuwait, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that practicing freedom of religion did not mean that anyone had the right to undermine other people’s beliefs or to impose their own religion, and rejected killing, displacement and violence against people because of their religion. Dominican Republic, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, recognized the positive aspects of information and communications technologies, and expressed concerns at the surveillance and mass-scale collection of private data, which interfered with the right to privacy. Germany was deeply concerned about advocacy and religious hatred that constituted incitement to discrimination, and encouraged the consideration of repealing blasphemy laws that fuelled intolerance, stigmatization and discrimination. Georgia said that it had pursued legal reforms in order to build a data-protection system, and had established a body to supervise efforts in that regard. On freedom of religion, Georgia had recently adopted a law explicitly prohibiting all forms of discrimination in both the public and private sectors.
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia noted that dialogue on diversity was the key to peaceful cohabitation and interaction at the global level. To that end, the Government planned to host the Fourth World Conference on Inter-religious and Inter-civilization Dialogue in Ohrid by the end of 2016, focusing on migration and the challenge of integration through dialogue between religions and cultures. Russian Federation shared the Special Rapporteur’s view that a holistic approach to the consideration of the freedom of religion or belief was needed. It was important to strengthen the understanding that freedom was not endless, and that it was limited by the freedom of others. Policies upholding freedom of expression should not be allowed to undermine freedom of religion or belief. Portugal concurred with the Special Rapporteur’s view regarding the positive interrelatedness between freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression, and also that the two rights mutually reinforced each other in facilitating free and democratic societies. Italy supported the measures that the Special Rapporteur had proposed on interreligious dialogue and the role of the media. Religious leaders should play a crucial role in that area, especially at a time when religion was too often used or perceived as an excuse to justify intolerance and violence. Algeria reminded that international humanitarian law established a clear framework for the universal promotion of the right to privacy and private life. As for freedom of religion or belief, the Algeria Constitution protected that right as inalienable. Ireland noted that it was the primary responsibility of States to promote the right to freedom of religion or belief, and to create a safe and enabling environment for the media and civil society to work towards counteracting intolerance and preventing acts of incitement, hostility and violence.
Ecuador recognized privacy as a human right whose exercise was necessary for other rights, adding concern at trends for exceptional security measures to intercept correspondence in order to combat terrorism. United States, addressing the Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, asked for best practices with respect to the implementation of resolution 16/18 on “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief”. Spain noted the complementary nature of the rights under discussion, and asked how private companies should address privacy issues, given requests for information from public authorities? Egypt said that there was no opposition between freedom of expression and freedom of religion, adding that offensive cartoons against the Prophet were provocations which did not fall under freedom of expression. Egypt asked the Special Rapporteur whether he thought incitement was part of freedom of expression. Denmark asked the Special Rapporteur on privacy to share successful experiences of increasing the participation of women in interreligious communication as well as examples of tangible impact such as participation had had on combatting intolerance. Cyprus thanked Mr. Bielefeldt for his efforts to promote interreligious dialogue in Cyprus, lamenting that historic places of worship in the “occupied areas of Cyprus” remained in a deplorable state and risked total destruction.
Pakistan said that the right to freedom of expression should not undermine the rights of other individuals and be turned into hate speech, adding that non-restrictive and restrictive measures were both necessary to combat hate speech. The respect of all religions was crucial. Montenegro expressed concern at violence, intolerance, discrimination and hatred in the name of religion or belief around the world, and noted the importance of raising awareness that no religion should be equated with terrorism or any form of violence. Council of Europe said that the right to privacy was a pillar of any democracy and needed to be protected, particularly in the digital age. The Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to automatic processing of personal data was the only legally-binding international instrument in the field of data protection. Poland strongly condemned any kind of discrimination and violence against persons belonging to religious minorities, and expressed concern at blasphemy laws, which were often misused to mistreat persons belonging to religious minorities. Turkey said that any abuse of freedom of expression to make hate speech against religious beliefs should be prohibited, and referred to intercultural dialogue between Turkish and Cyprus minorities as a good practice. Tunisia said that it continued to promote tolerance, coexistence and freedom of religion in all Mosques. Imams received training at all levels on combatting extremism and violence. Tunisia attached great importance to the rights of religious minorities.
Qatar said it had limits on freedom of expression linked to respect for other persons, recalling that international conventions on human rights protected individuals, and that there was a critical relationship between freedom of religion and of expression. Cuba expressed concern at “so-called global espionage,” and on religion said that the meeting in Havana between Pope Francis and the Patriarch of Russia showed the country’s commitment to freedom of religion. China said that as all religions and civilizations represented the crystallization of wisdom of mankind, the international community should join efforts to combat discrimination on religious grounds. China adhered to a policy of freedom of religion or belief, and treated all religions equally. Botswana spoke about international responsibilities in ensuring freedom of religion, noting that intolerance had a negative impact on society as a whole, and that in Botswana, religious education in schools aimed to teach children acceptance and tolerance from a young age. Indonesia described the state of freedom of religion nationally, and asked the Special Rapporteur to provide clarification on examples of good practices with regard to anti-incitement laws as well as to clarify the distinction between “subjective feeling of offensiveness” and “hate speech”. Brazil stressed the need for a more profound understanding of privacy in the digital age, asking the Special Rapporteur to develop his views on the next steps in implementing his ten-point action plan. Austria asked for examples of best practices on how to avoid interreligious dialogue being instrumentalized for political ends or State involvement blurring the separation between State and religion.
Australia believed that freedom of religion was an individual’s choice, thus States should not require that it be registered. An open dialogue between and within communities, religious and secular, was important for combatting extremism. What strategies could States employ with the view of engaging various religious communities? Libya asked for Mr. Bielefeldt’s view on immoral behaviour which included defamation of Islam’s religious symbols. Why was there no recommendation to the European Parliament to criminalize such behaviour? Tajikistan said that freedom of expression ought to be limited, otherwise it could morph into violence. It should not be interpreted as meaning that one could do just anything, while religion should not be the subject of policies in the social sphere. Iran agreed that States had the responsibility to develop comprehensive policies to combat intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization based on religion or belief. External manifestations of freedom of religion or belief did not enjoy unconditional protection and might be subject to limitations. Saudi Arabia said that non-Muslim visitors were welcome to Saudi Arabia, where they could practice their religion within their homes. Saudi Arabia was disappointed that the issue of the abuse of freedom of expression was not sufficiently addressed. Canada concurred that freedom of religion and freedom of opinion and expression mutually reinforced one another. Canada believed that the suppression of alternate voices by some Governments did not contribute to a climate of religious openness and respect for diversity.
Albania regretted that the report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy had been circulated late. It underlined States’ primary responsibility to balance freedom of expression and freedom of religion through clear rules, and stated that strategies of States to combat incitement to violence had to respect free speech. Holy See said that the exercise of one’s freedom without obligation constituted a danger. The followers of various religions should jointly condemn violence in the name of religion. All persons should be treated with equality regardless of their religious beliefs. Switzerland said that respect for freedom of religion, and the right not to believe, should be protected, and called on the international community to redouble its efforts to prevent religious extremism and violence. What role could the Human Rights Council play to support States in repealing blasphemy laws? Norway said that education, awareness-raising and interreligious dialogues were key, and underlined that blasphemy laws were not in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Norway expressed support to the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy in the fulfilment of his mandate. Organization of Islamic Cooperation said that States should take the necessary steps to combat hate speech, and asked whether the threshold for freedom of expression should be the same in all societies, regardless of their level of development. Sovereign Military Order of Malta said the excessive and irresponsible use of religions could lead to violence, and called for efforts to promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue. Religious diversity and shared citizenship should be allowed to coexist.
United Kingdom said that the right to freedom of religion or belief did not protect any particular religion or belief system from criticism. States should repeal their blasphemy laws which often fuelled intolerance. In societies where freedoms of religion and expression were respected, it was much harder for extremist views to take root. Senegal said that incitement to acts of hatred should never be tolerated, adding its reservation to the fact that the right to freedom of religion had been perceived wrongly as protecting religion per se, something which had to be revised. Freedom of expression should not be perceived as freedom to insult other people. Latvia asked if it would be possible to develop a definition of privacy in the digital environment, and encouraged the international community to look for the responsibility of States with respect to the responsibilities of multinational digital service providers of all sorts. Ukraine said that freedom of expression in the territories controlled by “Russian proxies” in Donbas were arbitrarily hindered and subjected to strict control, and that the Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief needed to visit Crimea.
Kyrgyzstan described the national state of freedom of religion, noting that that right was enshrined in the constitution, There were 2,000 mosques as well as Jewish and Buddhist temples, and other communities in the country. Every person had the freedom to express his or her opinion, but in doing so had to respect the feelings of others. Paraguay said that the need for balance between the authority of States and the responsibilities of private companies meant the international community needed balance between individual rights and human rights as well as the need for protection felt by governments. Belgium asked what the obligations of private enterprises were in the technology sphere in the context where products and activities online were transnational. On religion, concurrence was expressed with the opinion of the Rapporteur that the freedom of expression and of religion were mutually reinforcing. Morocco said that nationally, an integrated multidimensional strategy had come about allowing for religious freedom, adding that there was a need for combatting extremism of all kinds.
Response by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy
JOSEPH CANNATACI, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, said that one theme referred to by delegates was that of surveillance. In the Action Plan he encouraged regional and national initiatives in that respect. Very important developments had taken place in the European region to that end. Between October and December 2015, two important judgments took place, the Schrems and Zakharov judgments made by the European Court of Human Rights. They spelled the beginning of the judicial end to mass surveillance, and they provided for a clear judicial approach to what mass surveillance was supposed to be. It was not supposed to be disproportionate in a democratic society. Mr. Cannataci explained that his report was late because of the developments in the European Union, such as the discussion about privacy shields and safe harbour. One of the most influential European Union States had been preparing draft legislation and measures on surveillance, and it recently revealed its findings on 450 pages. The Special Rapporteur went through those pages to ensure that the proposed measures were in line with the right to privacy. His view was that the proposed measures on bulk interception and bulk hacking ran counter to decisions of European courts. Mr. Cannataci disagreed with the assertion of the delegation of Algeria that there existed a clear and universal framework on the right to privacy. As for the suggestion that there was a need for a new protocol to Article 17, he explained that he had been listening very carefully to what all stakeholders had to say and only after substantial consultations would he express his position on that issue. The amount of work required by the mandate was huge and the resources available were limited. He called for help from interested States in that respect. There were a number of definitions of privacy in the cyber environment and a number of disagreements. It was necessary to first develop better understanding of the notion of privacy. He stressed the need to open discussion with the companies concerned because it was necessary not to create a “back door” for data access. Companies had a primary responsibility to employ legal, procedural and technical measures to protect the information of their users, and should grant access to that data only in situations defined by law.
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Privacy and on Freedom of Religion or Belief
Privacy International said that despite increased attention by the United Nations, Governments around the world were adopting or proposing new laws that gave wider surveillance powers to State security agencies beyond what was permitted under human rights standards. Surveillance often fell short of the requirements of legality, necessity and proportionality. World Evangelical Alliance believed that freedom of religion and freedom of expression were mutually reinforcing. Could the Special Rapporteur share some best practices on how States could stimulate favourable conditions for respectful ways to express and receive dissenting opinions? Association Miraisme International said that intolerance and negative stereotypes came from the lack of knowledge of the other. The absence of accurate information about others and frequent distorted references in the media were elements that led to the promotion of discriminatory and hostile attitudes. International Humanist and Ethical Union stated that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation had consistently used charges of Islamophobia to condemn expressions of concern about some aspects of Islamic law, such as the stoning of women. There was hardly a State in the world where freedom of religion or belief was fully respected. Amnesty International said that the United Kingdom’s Investigatory Powers Bill was a regressive legislation, which, if adopted as it was, would have devastating effects for privacy and other human rights in the United Kingdom and beyond. Its broad provisions were contradictory to human rights law. European Union of Public Relations stated that Pakistan today was the very anti-thesis of the principle of secularism and the freedom of religion. The social and legal status of the country’s religious minorities had been declining since partition from India in 1947.
Shia Rights Watch noted that Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Qatar were facing a crisis that threatened their existence. They had been the main target of those Governments and ISIS terrorists. Centre for Inquiry urged States to pay heed to the Special Rapporteur’s call for the repeal of laws which criminalized blasphemy and required citizens to state their religious affiliation on their identification documents. It also urged States to note the Special Rapporteur’s point that the best antidote to intolerant propaganda was a culture of critical public discourse with broad participation. British Humanist Association warned that blasphemy laws persisted in 55 countries and it was punishable by imprisonment in 39 of those countries, and by death in six countries. To add insult to injury, 15 of the States that outlawed blasphemy were current members of the Human Rights Council. Al-Khoei Foundation drew attention to the dire situation of minorities, such as the Yazidis, Shabak, Hazaras, Christians, Shia and Sufi Muslims. Those groups were strongly affected by a narrative of rising extremism in numerous countries, including Nigeria, Pakistan, Malaysia and the ISIS occupied territories of Iraq and Syria. Jubilee Campaign, in a joint statement with Christian Solidarity Worldwide, noted that minority groups in Bangladesh continued to face discrimination in the law, society and in treatment by enforcement agencies. Last year’s multiple attacks on Shia mosques, Hindu temples and threats against Christian church leaders were reflective of the ongoing struggles of religious minorities in Bangladesh. Article 19 stated that shrinking civil society space was one barrier to the implementation of Resolution 16/18. That space was further restricted through broad national security laws, sedition and the abuse of hate speech laws, increasingly in the online context.
Iraqi Development Organization thanked the Special Rapporteur for freedom of religion for expressing concern over the systematic pattern of discrimination by the Government of Bahrain against the country’s majority Shia population. Had the Special Rapporteur received any indication that Bahrain intended to positively respond to those concerns? International Fellowship of Reconciliation called upon the Council to remain seized of the mandate implied in its title and to concentrate on human, not corporate rights. When institutions claimed rights, that inevitably implied a restriction on the human rights of individuals. World Barua Organization stated that the present Indian regime known for its Hindutva bias in the past had shut its eyes to the ongoing religious intolerance. Today all minorities in India, including converted Dalits and Muslims, lived in the constant fear of persecution at the hands of extremist Hindus. Alliance Defending Freedoms said that States should create favourable conditions for everyone to enjoy freedom of religion and belief. Freedom of speech should not be restricted any further than currently allowed by international law. Hate speech and blasphemy laws constituted serious threats.
HEINER BIELEFELDT, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, in concluding remarks, expressed gratitude to all those who participated in the discussion. He thanked Bangladesh and Lebanon for their positive interaction with his mandate. He recognized the commitment of Bangladesh not to shrink space for civil society, and to tackle the property issues of Hindus and indigenous peoples. Speaking of Lebanon, he appreciated that the Government saw itself as a promoter of multi-confessional society. The litmus test for implementing freedom of religion or belief was how governments dealt with limitation clauses. Freedoms had limitation clauses, but coming up with limitations required meeting the onus of justification. Human rights had be considered as priority when deciding and defining limitations to freedoms. What should be the space for blasphemy laws? The Special Rapporteur said there should be no space for such laws. Taking religions seriously meant that the pluralism of religions also had to be taken seriously. In order to do justice to various religious feelings, heavy-handed legislation should not be applied. Why was there an obsession with limitations? It implied a lack of imagination and sensitivity for diversity. The international community needed more imagination and needed to reduce restrictive legislation. The implementation of any Human Rights Council resolution should rely on imagination and many good initiatives on the ground. The Human Rights Council should acknowledge what had already been happening on the ground, and avoid applying a top-down approach. National human rights institutions had a role to play in that respect by being a link between domestic and international arenas. In order to counter negative stereotypes, common sense was necessary. The antidote to conspiracy projections was realism. The recent resurgence of fundamentalist discourses showed that a minority claimed to be speaking on behalf of all people But rights holders should make use of their rights to promote the rights of others.
JOSEPH CANNATACI, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, in brief concluding remarks, responded to the question by Privacy International, underlining the technical difficulties of monitoring new surveillance legislation developed by countries, and called on non-governmental organizations and data-protection agencies to assist him in the complex work required for the fulfilment of his mandate.
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