Explanation of Position by John F. Sammis, Deputy Representative to ECOSOC, on the Third Committee Resolution on Combating Intolerance Based on Religion or Belief, November 15, 2011

John F. Sammis
United States Deputy Representative to ECOSOC 
New York, NY
November 15, 2011

The U.S. is pleased to join consensus on this resolution. We congratulate the sponsors of this resolution for what we hope is becoming a blueprint for constructive, meaningful actions that States and the international community will take to promote respect for religious differences. We are glad that the landmark consensus reached at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on this issue has also taken hold here. We have for some years shared the stated concerns of the sponsors and others about intolerance, discrimination and violence directed against persons on the basis of their religion and belief. It is deeply concerning that these problems persist in the 21st century in all regions of the world.

As was also true in Geneva, the U.S. had not been able to support previous efforts of the sponsors to address these very real and serious problems in this body because those efforts relied in great measure on seeking to impose restrictions on expression as a means to combat intolerance, discrimination and violence based on religion or belief. Not only do we believe such restrictions are wrong and violate freedoms of expression and religion; we also are convinced that they are counterproductive and exacerbate the very

problems they ostensibly seek to address. We have seen in various parts of the world how laws that criminalize offensive expression have been misused by governments and to persecute political opponents and minorities. In some cases those who have engaged in

religiously motivated violence or murder have pointed to such laws as justification for their actions.

The resolution being adopted today, however, follows the path set by the landmark HRC resolution 16/18 and provides for criminalization of expression in only one circumstance – incitement to imminent violence. It calls upon states to take different types of measures to counter all other forms of offensive expression, ranging from education and awareness building to interfaith efforts to urging political, religious and societal leaders to speak out

and condemn offensive expression. The resolution specifically recognizes that the most effective antidote to offensive expression is more expression and the "open public debate of ideas," not laws that restrict expression in the name of tolerance. The approach taken by this resolution is one that upholds respect for universal human rights.

The resolution calls for measures to prohibit discrimination and invidious profiling, and calls upon states to enforce those prohibitions effectively. The resolution also calls on states to implement laws to prohibit hate crimes against persons, which are violent crimes such as harassment, assault, property destruction, or even murder, motivated by, among other things, bias based on religion or belief. And it expressly recognizes the importance of providing all adherents of religions or beliefs equal protection of the law. The United States welcomes all international, national, and regional initiatives that respect universal human rights and that recommend these types of measures to promote interfaith harmony and combating discrimination against individuals on the basis of religion or belief. Such initiatives can promote respect for religious diversity in a manner that respects universal human rights.

Mr. Chairman, each of us has a lot of work to do to turn the actions recommended in this resolution into reality. To succeed, the approach outlined here must be more than words on paper in a UN resolution. It must be a call to action for each of our governments to take assertive, concrete measures to uphold its international obligations and to promote awareness and understanding of the sensitive issues the resolution addresses. In

July, to help ensure that this call to action is implemented, Secretary Clinton co-chaired a Ministerial meeting with OIC Secretary General Ihsanoglu in Istanbul to promote implementation of the actions called for in HRC Resolution 16/18. We look forward

to the series of implementation meetings that begin next month, the outcome of which will be shared with relevant UN offices, such as the OHCHR. In line with these implementation efforts, the United States urges member states to heed the call in the resolution to provide updates on the efforts they are making in this regard as part of ongoing reporting to OHCHR.

We wish to extend our appreciation to all delegations who have worked in a constructive spirit of dialogue and mutual understanding in order to reach this result. We remain committed to trying to ensure that this positive approach becomes the basis for joint efforts to make the promise of this resolution a reality around the world.


PRN: 2011/311