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Press releases Multiple Mechanisms

Council reviews reports on the use of drones in the fight against terrorism, and on freedom of religion

12 March 2014

Human Rights Council  

12 March 2014

The Human Rights Council this morning concluded its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of religion or belief, and on human rights and counter-terrorism, including the latter’s report on the use of remotely piloted aircraft, or drones, in extraterritorial lethal counter-terrorism operations, and allegations that the increasing use of drones had caused a disproportionate number of civilian casualties.  The presentations made yesterday by the Special Rapporteurs and the first part of the dialogue can be read in a meeting summary here.
In concluding remarks, Ben Emmerson, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, said all forms of counter-terrorism, including the use of armed drones, should be consistent with the United Nations Charter and international humanitarian and human rights law.  Critical legal questions were outlined in his report, not least issues of transparency and accountability.  He also noted that the General Assembly took the view that human rights and humanitarian law were relevant in the context of drones.
Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, in concluding remarks, said freedom of religion or belief was a universal human right to protect human beings, not religions or belief-systems.  Freedom of religion or belief went hand by hand with freedom of expression, and vice versa.  The media played an important role in providing trust in a realistic manner, and to give minorities the opportunity to make their voices heard. 
In the discussion several delegations commented on the report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, including his thematic study focusing on the human rights issues surrounding the use of drones.  Speakers highlighted the theme of compliance in the use of armed drones and the necessity to arrive at a consensus in interpretation of international law and current practice.  States welcomed the proposal to convene an interactive panel of experts at the September 2014 session of the Human Rights Council.
Regarding freedom of religion or belief, many speakers agreed that States had to invest in trust-building based on universal respect.  Deep concerns were expressed about the issue of religious hatred, and the need for interfaith dialogue, legal provisions and trust-building actions were highlighted.  States asked for examples of best practice in implementing the Rabat Plan of Action.  Educational, cultural exchange and media initiatives, including the internet, could be helpful, although the media’s role in fuelling religious hatred was also mentioned. Several States advocated the abolishment of blasphemy laws.
Speaking in the discussion were Czech Republic, Ireland, Algeria, Cuba, Morocco, Tunisia, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Qatar, Australia, Iran, Italy, Syria, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malta, Switzerland, International Organization of Francophonie, Norway, Russia, Malaysia, Viet Nam, China, Poland, Belarus, Netherlands, United States, United Kingdom, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Georgia, Thailand, Iraq, Cyprus, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Bangladesh, Holy See, France, Egypt, Costa Rica, Brazil, Albania, Sudan, Venezuela, Austria, Turkey and Nigeria.
The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: the International Development Law Organization, American Civil Liberties Union, World Jewish Congress, International Humanist and Ethical Union, International Fellowship of Reconciliation, World Barua Organization, Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy, British Humanist Association, International Association for Democracy in Africa, United Schools, Augustinians International and Franciscans International.
The Human Rights Council is today holding a full day of meetings.  At 2 p.m., it will hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteurs in the field of cultural rights and on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. At approximately 4 p.m. the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General on violence against children and on children and armed conflict, will present their reports to the Council, followed by a discussion.
Clustered Interactive Dialogue
Czech Republic said promotion of tolerance, respect for diversity and mutual diversity were of utmost importance to the enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief.  Limitations to rights to express an opinion were a source of great vulnerability, especially for persons belonging to religious minorities.  Morocco said several United Nations studies and reports underscored an unprecedented rise in incitement to religious, ethnic and racial hatred, which hampered the promotion and protection of human rights.  What could States do through the United Nations, as hate speech became commonplace?  Algeria believed that manifestations of religious hatred had to be dealt with in a specific legal manner, through prohibition.  Fighting terrorism and protecting human rights were of a complimentary nature, there should be synergies between them.  Tunisia said that religious and political leaders should inculcate an atmosphere of tolerance and refrain from using discourse of hatred.  Their opinions had an impact on the populace, and they should criticize hate speech.  The President of Tunisia had reaffirmed its commitment to respecting human rights during counter terrorism operations at his address to the Council last week.
Ireland, speaking on freedom of religion or belief, asked whether the internet could have a positive role in dealing with manifestations of religious hatred.  Ireland took a close interest in the use of drones and expressed deep concern by reports of numerous instances where drones were said to have caused civilian deaths.  Cuba said the Cuban Five were still being punished following a judicial process plagued with legal irregularities of all kinds, which still persisted.  Despite repeated complaints at the Council and other forums about the injustices committed against them, the wall of silence still existed around the case, as evidence of the double standard of the United States in its supposed fight against terrorism.
Organization of Islamic Cooperation said that there was a need to distinguish between causes of religious hatred, because they had to be treated in different ways.  Causes based on perceived threats and fears needed to be addressed by the range of steps mentioned in Mr. Bielefeldt’s report, while those created, propagated and manipulated for specific interests should be treated by measures outlined in Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Qatar said negative portrayal of religions was linked to violence and terrorism under the pretext of freedom of expression.  Qatar stressed the importance of the Istanbul Process in combating hatred and intolerance and promoting values of dialogue.  Australia said States must ensure that any measures taken to counter terrorism complied with their obligations under international law, and they must ensure accountability whenever there were violations of human rights. 
Iran believed that respect was the key word in understanding human rights, particularly freedom of religion or belief.  It asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on ways of tackling discrimination against Muslims in Europe.  Italy condemned the continuing violence against religious minorities worldwide and said that minorities were often identified as scapegoats during the current economic and financial crisis.  Italy strongly supported existing early-warning mechanisms which also took into account sectarian violence and religious-based persecution.  Syria said that the root of many of the crises in the world was different forms of religious hatred, which in some situations threatened global peace and security.  Syria called for more attention to be paid to the role of the media in fuelling religious hatred.
Sri Lanka underlined that policies intended to counter manifestations of religious hatred needed to invest in ‘trust-building’ based on universal respect.  In keeping with Sri Lanka’s societal, cultural and historical norms, regular dialogue and legal processes to address sporadic religiously-motivated incidents continued to take place.

Indonesia noted the role of endemic corruption, authoritarianism and narrow identity politics in facilitating religious hatred.  In Indonesia, freedom of religion or belief was a constitutional mandate.  On a regional level, together with the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand, Indonesia initiated the Regional Interfaith Dialogue which brought together relevant stakeholders to enhance understanding on tolerance and mutual respect.
International Organization of La Francophonie prioritized actions to foster mutual understanding, interreligious dialogue and cultural diversity through the freedom of peoples, giving the members of linguistic and religious groups the right to speak their language and practice their own religion and culture.  Dialogue between civilizations, countries and religions and cultural exchanges using education and media were vital to contribute to a climate of respect.  Malta shared the concern that religious hatred was a root cause hampering religious freedom in many societies.  However, it was a human phenomenon built over time that could be reversed by good practices, such as accepting refugees regardless of historical and religious divisions or caring for the poor.
Pakistan cautioned against existing social and legal uncertainty in relation to the interpretation of international law and obligations related to the use of armed drones, underlining the importance of achieving consensus on the interpretation of current legal practices.  Switzerland highlighted that the key theme in Mr. Emmerson’s report on human rights and counter-terrorism was the promotion of compliance with the relevant principles in international law.  Switzerland asked the Special Rapporteur if he foresaw a formal process to seek information from States in response to the questions posed in his report. 
Norway agreed that manifestations of collective religious hatred were not natural phenomena and stressed the importance of Article 10 of the Rabat Plan of Action.  Norway agreed that a certain responsibility rested with the media.  Which role could documentation of hate speech or hate crime play in the promotion of tolerance in multicultural and multi-religious societies? Poland said it attached great importance to the protection of freedom of religion and belief.  Freedom of religion and belief was closely linked with freedom of expression and other fundamental rights; Poland stressed the responsibility of States in ensuring those rights.  Viet Nam agreed with the reports that the root causes of religious hatred and terrorist acts came from both internal and external factors.  States should be encouraged to comprehensively tackle the root causes, addressing the intertwined links between poverty, inequality, justice and freedom of religion and belief.  Malaysia said understanding the root causes of religious hatred was key.  The Special Rapporteur had highlighted the key elements of respect and building of trust; and Malaysia agreed that tolerance, understanding and moderation were equally important.  Malaysia was concerned by the human rights implications of the use of armed drones.
China said that the Special Rapporteur had raised manifestations of collective religious hatred, which deserved attention.  China implemented the policy of the State system and education was separated from religion.  The use of drones had to be studied more carefully.  China was against the use of double standards in counter terrorism.  Russia drew the Special Rapporteur’s attentions to the situation of Christian communities in Syria.  Russia was seriously alarmed by information of many instances of civilian casualties as a result of the use of drones.  What perspectives were there for prosecuting those responsible for civilian deaths as a result of drone strikes? 
Belarus supported the request by the Special Rapporteur for the investigation of violations arising from the use of armed drones in the context of counter-terrorism and suggested that one of his future reports focused on the issue of secret prisons in a number of European States.  Netherlands supported the recommendations made by Mr. Bielefeldt and agreed that trust and communication were key to creating a society where there was no religious hatred.  United States expressed appreciation for the detailed explanation of the Rabat Plan of Action, including the emphasis it placed on preventive actions and asked how the initiatives such as the Istanbul Process contributed to greater understanding of the need for a holistic approach to addressing religious hatred.  The United States asked Mr. Emmerson whether he had considered reporting on concerns regarding the use of counter-terrorism as a pretext for repressing domestic opposition groups and preventing their members from exercising their civil and political rights. 
United Kingdom agreed with the Special Rapporteur that there was nothing inevitable or unavoidable about collective religious hatred and welcomed the clear finding of the Rabat Plan of Action that blasphemy laws were not the solution to incitement and were often counter-productive.  Concerning the legal challenges identified, the United Kingdom said existing international law sufficiently covered the use of remotely piloted aircrafts which were subject to same legal considerations as other weapons systems.  Mexico said the use of armed drones must abide by applicable international standards of law both in time of war and time of peace and that if human rights were violated, then their use must be properly studied and regulated by international law. 

International Development Law Organization said that too often the law was used to suppress freedoms and discriminate against minorities and the consequences of that could be seen around the world in communities and countries torn apart by religious intolerance and in growing political violence in the name of religion.  
Thailand concurred that manifestation of collective hatred including religious hatred were caused by complex societal problems, lack of trust and understanding among different faiths, and the combination of fear and contempt.  States had to invest in trust-building based on universal respect, encourage an atmosphere of religious tolerance, and build societal resilience against manifestation of religious hatred.  Saudi Arabia reiterated the importance of the Rabat Plan of Action.  Saudi Arabia exerted its supportive efforts nationally to combat the phenomenon of religious hatred.  The language of dialogue was capable of building bridges of communication and tolerance.   Cyprus said it was its conviction that the right to freedom of religion or belief was fundamental for every human being.  It should be made possible for that right to be accessible to everyone and everywhere.  Cyprus remained fully committed to inter-religious dialogue.  Inter-religious cooperation across the country could and did create a ground for addressing the underlying human rights issues that could also have a positive impact on the reconciliation process as a whole.
Canada remained deeply concerned about the plight of persecuted religious communities in various parts of the world where, either due to Government restrictions or extreme social hostilities, individuals were targeted because of their faith.  It also remained concerned that Falun Gong practitioners and other religious worshippers in China faced persecution; further, reports that organ transplants took place without free and informed consent of the donor were troubling. Georgia said that last year the Government established an Interagency Commission for the Study of Particular Issues related to Religious Union.  The goal of the initiative was to extend the principle of equality for all religious unions.  A month ago, the Government established the State Agency for Religious Issues under the Prime Minister’s Office to provide recommendations on the matter. 
Belgium said that it had a significant legislative arsenal to combat incitement to hatred on a religious or philosophical basis.  It had no law against blasphemy and advocated that all Member States of the United Nations abolished those laws.  Did the Special Rapporteur have specific proposals on ways of better ensuring accountability in the case of the illegal use of drones?  Iraq said that despite huge challenges and terrorist attacks, its Government was committed to respecting human rights and fundamental right in counter-terrorism.  Iraq enjoyed the support of the international community and Security Council in its work to combat terrorism and it was currently accommodating an international conference in Baghdad, to exchange expertise to adopt a common international strategy to tackle sources of terrorism. 
Germany said actions of collective religious hatred often appeared at the beginning of outbreaks of violence along sectarian or religious lines, but could happen far from conflict zones, starting as populist campaigns building on fear and mistrust of people considered “religiously different”.  It cautioned that inter- and intra- religious communication to reduce negative preconceptions generally reached those open to dialogue, but often failed to engage hard-line groups, and asked for advice in that regard.  Bangladesh recognized that collective hatred was a social phenomenon happening in various parts of the world and that the media played an important role in promoting it, thus freedom of expression should be exercised with extreme responsibility and backed up by public institutions and legal guarantees.  Holy See insisted upon respect for religious liberty and the autonomy of individuals to freely express their beliefs, in accordance with just civil legislation and mutual respect for other convictions.  Holy See said certain actors may use religion, its symbols and language, for objectives other that their original purpose, and States had a duty to prevent violations of human rights and incitement to hatred.
France said that the recommendations formed in the report on freedom of religion or belief would allow it to put in place concrete measure against demonstrations of collective religious hatred.  It asked what incentives or binding provisions could be used to ensure that the Rabat Plan of Action was implemented?  Egypt said that its newly adopted 2014 Constitution addressed comprehensively the issue of non-discrimination and the freedom to believe was absolute.  There was a need for the States to take international action that would effectively protect the human rights of victims of terrorism through the consideration of a framework guiding principles and invited Member States to consider joining a cross regional statement to this effect. 
Costa Rica said that the use of armed drones and their relationship with international law was a very relevant issue; the Special Rapporteur’s call to the international community to reach consensus on several legal issues would start the process.  It expressed concern that some Governments made policies which discriminated against minorities and created intolerance against persons who did not conform to the majority religion.  Brazil said that the Council should adopt a resolution on the use of armed drones in counter-terrorism operations, which would lay the legal foundation for their use.  It stressed the importance of respect for the principles of distinction and proportionality in the use of armed drones.  Despite their promises for greater transparency, States using that technology did not fulfil their obligations to provide independent and impartial information concerning the incidents and casualties.  Venezuela condemned terrorism in all its forms and said drones were machines that generated terrorism.  Many civilians died as a result of their indiscriminate and disproportionate use, which was the issue the international community must immediately address and regulate.
Albania regretted that limited progress had been made in eliminating intolerance and discrimination based religion or belief.  In the Central African Republic, the international community was confronted with an advanced situation of atrocity crimes.  Sudan called on all national human rights institutions to take the Rabat Plan of Action as a reference document in efforts to address the root causes of collective religious hatred, and encouraged all to intensify efforts to end the indiscriminate targeting of religions and cultures.  Austria stressed the importance of interfaith dialogue in the creation of tolerant and inclusive societies.  The protection of civilians in armed conflict was a longstanding priority for Austria and that was why it believed that the application of armed drones required urgent discussion to ensure that their use did not violate principles of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
Turkey welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s efforts to establish and develop a channel of communication between the religious leaders of the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities.  Establishing inter-religious communication and harmony was no doubt very important for the sustainable solution of conflicts involving communities from different religions regardless of the origins of the dispute.  Nigeria said in the fight against the scourge of terrorism and senseless murder of innocent Nigerians, the Federal Government had strictly complied with international human rights and humanitarian laws.
International Fellowship of Reconciliation said when looking at the role of religion in the Cyprus peace process, it was shocking to note that there had been no communication between the religious leaders of the island.  World Jewish Congress said Judaism was the first culture to teach that animals, even plants, should be treated with respect, at a time when humanity had not begun to think in terms of animal rights.  Conveniently, some preferred to ignore the origin of the values they claimed to defend.  World Barua Organization was concerned by the situation of the Barua people in Bangladesh.  The level of protection by the Government was not sufficient to ensure their well-being.  They were deprived of homes and places of human worship.  The international community was urged to exert pressure on the Government of Bangladesh.  International Humanist and Ethical Union said freedom of religion or belief applied to a broad variety of beliefs.  The right to free thought of those with no religion was either forgotten or knowingly violated by many.  It should be borne in mind that language used by the United Nations had fundamental significance in its descriptive and prescriptive capacity, and in its power to influence international discourse. 
American Civil Liberties Union said the United States had remained silent even when confronted with allegations of civilian deaths through its targeted operations.  The little information the United States had made public on its killing operations directly contradicted much of the publicly-available evidence.  Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy said in India and Bangladesh there was no nominated Member of Parliament for Buddhist minority, which amounted to discrimination.  Also no Buddhist holidays were recognized in West Bengal. British Humanist Association lamented the persistence of blasphemy and apostasy laws and stated that non-believers should be protected in the same manner as religious minorities, which was not always the case.
International Association for Democracy in Africa drew attention to human rights violations in Pakistan, including religious attacks on the Shia minority, forced conversions, oppression of the Ahmediyas and the use of blasphemy law against Christians. United Schools criticized Pakistan’s anti-terrorism policy and called for criminal justice in relation to the chaotic situation in Baluchistan, where extra-judicial actions, torture, kidnappings and enforced disappearance occurred and missing persons remained unaccounted for.  Augustinians International and Franciscans International, speaking in a joint statement with a coalition of non-governmental organizations, said anti-terrorism legislation had not been part of the solution, rather had become part of the problem, as it had been applied in a confusing and discriminatory fashion which undermined the right to fair trial.
Concluding Remarks
HEINER BIELEFELDT, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said freedom of religion or belief was a universal human right to protect human beings, not religions or belief-systems.  It was therefore based on a broad understanding.  Trust was key, and States should provide an open constitutional framework to serve as a trust-worthy warrantor of the freedom.  Freedom of religion or belief went hand in hand with freedom of expression, and vice versa, the close links were also found in the Rabat Plan of Action and the call on States to repeal blasphemy laws.  The media played an important role in providing trust in a realistic manner, it should not just be a marketing exercise, and should give minorities the opportunity to make their voices heard.  That also applied to interfaith communication.  What was important were not fanciful documents about common values but the capacity of people to share experience based on a common sense of humanity.  National human rights institutions should take an active role in using the Rabat Plan of Action to structure their own work. 
BEN EMMERSON, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, thanked Mexico for continuing to sponsor his mandate.  It should be ensured that all forms of counterterrorism, including the use of armed drones, should be consistent with the United Nations Charter and international humanitarian and human rights law.  Mr. Emmerson encouraged those States which so far had expressed support for further dialogue to translate that support into the operationalizing recommendation set out in Pakistan’s resolution.  The Special Rapporteur said he had based part of his inquiry on cooperation with States, who had provided information.  The next step was the challenging one, as all States would be asked to formulate their positions on difficult questions of law, as identified in the report.  Some critical legal questions were outlined in the report, not least issues of transparency and accountability.  Responding to objections concerning the relevance of the Council to address such issues, the Special Rapporteur noted that the General Assembly took the view that human rights and humanitarian law were relevant in the context of drones.

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