An official website of the United States government

Statement by the U.S. on the Way Forward with the Istanbul Process
July 9, 2013

Istanbul Process For Combating Intolerance, Discrimination and Incitement to Hatred and/or Violence on the Bas

Statement by Ambassador Michael G. Kozak,
Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

Istanbul Process For Combating Intolerance, Discrimination and Incitement to Hatred and/or
Violence on the Basis of Religion or Belief

June 21, 2013

3rd International Expert Meeting on the Follow-up of Implementation of HRC Resolution 16/18

Ambassador Michael G. Kosak

I want to thank the Secretary General again for the initiative he took that led to Resolution 16/18 and for the hard work he has put in to efforts to bring about its implementation. I also want to thank the OIC Secretariat staff for their preparations for this session. And thanks to our panelists for their insights and patience.

At the same time, I feel compelled to express disappointment that much of the debate we have had here on “incitement” was essentially the same debate we have witnessed during the years before 16/18 was passed, involving the same parties and many of the same individuals. Indeed, at this point I think Ambassador Akram, Ambassador Jazairy Mr. Attiyah and I could play each other’s roles effectively since we have memorized each other’s talking points.

The narrative in terms reminiscent of the Cold War pits “the West” against “the rest.” Religious intolerance throughout the world is attributed to the failure of the West to either endorse or enforce more sweeping criminal prohibitions on speech. It is never explained how prohibiting media in the West from reporting on people who wrongly appropriate to themselves the term “jihadis” would somehow result in better treatment for Christians in Egypt or Shia in Pakistan. Nor is it explained how the application of anti-Semitism laws to anti-Muslim expression would result in better outcomes for Muslims in Europe when we are seeing an increase in anti-Semitism that parallels the grown in anti-Muslim expression – most often from the same groups of haters. Nor is there any examination of why those countries that have expansive restrictions on religious expression also have even higher degrees of religious violence and intolerance than those that do not.

Instead, it is just presumed that getting the so-called “West” to adopt a defamation of religions resolution or now a broader interpretation of Article 20 of the ICCPR than either the Human Rights Committee or the OHCHR workshops have found warranted would somehow be the silver bullet that fixes all problems.

This in our view is not a productive use of the 16/18 process. Instead let us turn our efforts to finding ways to make a real difference in the lives of people throughout the world who are suffering from religious persecution. We have heard some good suggestions from experts here this morning that focus on implementation. And we agree.

We need to focus on implementation, not “evolution” to include more topics that are never implemented.

1. Implementation — Several speakers have mentioned “gaps in implementation.” We agree that this is the primary problem here. States should actually implement the steps in 16/18. These Istanbul Process meetings are supposed to focus on best practices for implementing the specific steps of 16/18. AQs I indicated, we think some have lost sight of this, and instead tried to use this meeting as a way to suggest new and old ideas that are not part of the 16/18 consensus.

2. Reporting — The gap in implementation is made perfectly clear when we look at the lack of adequate reporting. Under the UNGA version of 16/18 from 2011 (resolution 66/167), the UN Secretary General [SYG] issued a report (A/67/296) on implementation of 16/18 after soliciting input from members. Only 21 states provided information to the UN SYG’s report. Just 6 of 57 OIC members reported on their own implementation. So before people start contemplating ways that 16/18 should “evolve”, we think state implementation needs to evolve. And their reporting on implementation needs to evolve too.

The UN SYG has again solicited input for this year’s report on implementation. That input is due TODAY. We hope that more states will respond this year. To call for an observatory when members are not meeting the existing reporting requirements makes little sense.

In addition, on the issue of reporting, we agree with the recommendation made by a couple of participants for the OIC to report on its own members’ implementation of anti-discrimination laws, just like the OSCE does.

That reporting will help to keep our focus on actual domestic policies that affect the lives of people.

3. Focused meetings — We need to return to having focused 16/18 implementation meetings in domestic contexts. The purpose of the Istanbul Process is to promote domestic implementation of 16/18. This requires that domestic experts be involved in these discussions. One of the blessings of 16/18 is that it began to move us beyond redundant and fruitless debates and instead focused on implementation.

That is why we are pleased to hear that Qatar plans to host an Istanbul Process meeting in November, and that Chile plans to host one early next year. We trust that these meetings will go back to the idea behind the Istabul Process: domestic expert-oriented discussions to review and share best practices for implementing the specific elements of 16/18.

And that is also why we strongly oppose the suggestion made by a few individuals on creating a new group of experts to discuss Article 20 of the ICCPR. OHCHR already held five regional expert meetings on this issue, the last one being the Rabat meeting. The experts have produced their report, so there is no reason to propose a new gathering of experts or of referring questions to the Human Rights Committee, which develops its agenda independently and which has just addressed the issue in General Comment 34. Instead we need to focus on the concrete implementation process that we have embarked on with the Istanbul Process.

4. We think the content and format of future meetings are very important to consider. In terms of subject matter for future meetings, as the participants and panelists noted yesterday, there are many issues and parts of the world that demand greater attention. In particular, there are numerous cases of sectarian violence and members of minority religious groups being killed in various parts of the world — this includes Christian groups, Ahmadis, Bahai’s, Jews, Shia and Sunni Muslims including the Rohingya population in Burma who Ambassador Akram mentioned. In two separate incidents in Pakistan last year, mobs stormed police stations and abducted Muslim men who had been accused of blasphemy, and then burned these men to death. Last July in Egypt, a Coptic-owned laundry accidentally scorched a Muslim man’s shirt, leading to violent clashes in which one Muslim bystander was killed, nine police were injured, and one vehicle destroyed, after which authorities encouraged Copts to leave town to avoid further violence against them. We need to focus more on how to deter these kinds of egregious cases of violence against members of religious minorities, and work on ensuring that everyone can exercise their rights to freedom of religion or belief without the threat of violence. More debate over the term “incitement” would not help any of these victims.

And in terms of format, we could also try to incorporate new ways of demonstrating best practices. One new idea that occurred to us was to have simulation exercises with participants from domestic agencies of different countries working together to respond to hypothetical situations, like sectarian violence. We would be happy to work with the OIC Secretariat and perhaps a university or think tank and to bring simulation experts into the mix. Civil society should also play a greater role in future meetings, given their vital role on these issues.

Mr. Chairman, this is our proposal: Let us return to making real progress on implementing the steps set forth in 16/18 and see to it that they are making a real difference in combating discrimination and violence.

We thank you again for organizing the session.