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Human Rights Defenders, Religious Freedom, and Minorities
March 11, 2009

Interactive Dialogue on
Human Rights Defenders, Religious Freedom, and Minorities
Item 3

Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America
Human Rights Council 10th Session
Geneva, March 11, 2009

The United States values the ability of these thematic mandates to draw international attention to critical human rights issues.

The  report of the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders reminds us that the Council has the opportunity to strengthen its support for courageous individuals and organizations around the world who stand up for human rights and fundamental freedoms.  We support the Special Rapporteur’s efforts to work with regional mandate holders and human rights bodies, such as her joint visit to Togo and her efforts to strengthen ties with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The Special Rapporteur’s in-depth analysis of the first year of the UPR highlights excellent suggestions for improving this mechanism.  We join the Special Rapporteur in encouraging all states to include all civil society stakeholders — including individual human rights defenders — in the preparation of their UPR reports and their follow-up actions.  We also believe that the situation of human rights defenders is an important topic to cover in submitted UPR reports and in the interactive dialogue.

The United States welcomes the report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, which highlights the fact that member states far too often impose undue limits on religious freedom or fail to adopt measures to promote and protect this fundamental freedom.  We remain deeply concerned about discriminatory restrictions on religious freedom, such as policies that unduly favor majority religious communities by placing limitations on conversion, proselytism, religious dress, and the freedom to speak openly about a given religion.  The defamation of religion concept that continues to be promoted in this and other international bodies is of particular concern.  We are alarmed by the use of this concept by some governments to justify actions that selectively curtail civil dissent, halt criticism of political structures, and restrict the religious speech of minority faith communities, dissenting members of the majority faith, and persons of no religious faith.  The United States disapproves of speech and actions that are offensive to religious communities and strongly encourages religious tolerance and inter-religious dialogue.   However, we cannot support undue limitations on free expression.  The United States has learned from its own imperfect past that broad protections for freedom of expression, including religious expression, strengthens social stability by fostering a climate of respect and understanding among diverse communities.