Human Rights Council 28th Session
Geneva, March 10, 2015
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief
Ambassador Keith HarperU.S. Representative to the Human Rights Council
Thank you, Mr. President.
The United States thanks Special Rapporteur Bielefeldt for his excellent report and analysis on addressing violence in the name of religion. His choice of topic was unfortunately a prescient one. In recent months we have seen many horrific instances of violence related to religion, including in Western Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and my own country. This is an enormously important topic today.
The Special Rapporteur correctly states that a number of factors influence violence in the name of religion, including corruption, impunity, and exclusionary and repressive policies, as well as violent interpretations of religious texts. A holistic understanding of and approach to these factors are critical.
While many actors in society play important roles in addressing this type of violence, effective state institutions that respect human rights and are accountable to local populations are critical. When states oppress their people, or stifle dissent, or close the space for civil society, they sow the seeds of violent extremism.
As noted in the Special Rapporteur’s report, states must protect the freedom of religion or belief and effectively enforce anti-discrimination laws so that all individuals are protected, regardless of whether they belong to minority religious groups. Religious leaders and other elements of civil society play an important role in countering violent extremism, but they can only fulfill their potential if the freedoms of religion, association and expression are fully protected.
The Special Rapporteur makes a number of prudent recommendations in his report.
We agree that states should revoke anti-blasphemy and apostasy laws, as they too often discriminate and create environments of fear and mistrust.
We agree that political and civil society leaders must speak out against violence and intolerance in the name of religion, because the best antidote to hate speech is more speech, including positive narratives that reinforce the values of tolerance and pluralism.
We agree that states must end impunity for human rights violations, and must create political systems that allow for full and equal participation by all members of society.
And we agree that education and community engagement are essential ingredients in promoting a culture of pluralism and respect throughout society.
Last month in Washington, President Obama hosted a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, which brought together local, national, and international leaders from governments, the private sector, religious leaders and other members of civil society to discuss and collaborate on actions to address violent extremism. We look forward to continuing that conversation and joint action in the coming months.
Mr. Special Rapporteur, in your view, what are the most effective measures a state could take to combat violence in the name of religion?