I thank the Polish Mission for the invitation to address this virtual launch of the Group of Friends of Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief in New York. I commend this initiative that fosters dialogue, tolerance, and understanding across cultures and societies.
This event could not have been organized at a better time because as I speak acts of intolerance and violence based on religious differences rage in many parts of the globe. I am drawing your attention to the plight of religious non believers – such as Mubarak Bala in Nigeria – in reference to acts of religious violence and bigotry. Persecution and discrimination based on religion or belief are too often linked to de facto and de jure laws against apostasy and blasphemy in many countries.
The Freedom of Thought Report, published by the Humanists International has noted some of the egregious violations of religious liberty and the legal discrimination against persons whose religion or belief are not part of the mainstream.
Apostasy and blasphemy laws impinge on the full exercise and enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief. Humanists International’s 2019 Freedom of Thought Report states that 69 countries still have blasphemy laws. These countries have stiff penalties including the death penalty for those who renounce their religious beliefs or express non-religious views. Blasphemy laws institutionalize religious discrimination and make religious persecution a state affair. Apostasy and blasphemy laws legitimize impunity for crimes committed in the name of the mainstream religion including forced disappearance and extrajudicial killings of persons who belong to minority religious or belief groups. Laws against apostasy and blasphemy violate safeguards and respect for diversity because these laws target minority religious and belief groups in various countries.
Incidentally there is no one religious or belief group that is in the majority everywhere. All religious and belief groups are in the minority somewhere in the world. So it is pertinent to protect and uphold the rights and liberties of religious and non religious minorities worldwide.
In muslim majority countries, blasphemy laws target muslim minorities and other minority religious or belief groups including Christians, Hindus, Traditionalists and Atheists. Apostasy legislations hamper and stifle the exercise of freedom from the mainstream religion or faith. In Hindu dominated societies, blasphemy legislations are used to persecute muslims, atheists and other minority groups. Apostasy and blasphemy legislations endanger and threaten human rights everywhere.
Distinguished delegates, to eradicate acts of intolerance and violence based on religion or belief, it is important to abolish apostasy and blasphemy laws. It is imperative to dismantle structures and mechanisms that legitimize religious intolerance, oppression and discrimination.
In a religiously diverse world, individuals hold different, conflicting, critical, and contradictory ideas and views. People express thoughts and beliefs that others may find offensive or annoying. The essence of diversity is dissimilarity, not similarity, disagreement, not agreement, variety, not sameness. For the full exercise of the right to freedom of religion or belief and preservation of diversity in the world, tolerance is necessary. Tolerance is the glue that knits together disparate ideas, and beliefs, turning religious diversity into a resource, into a source of strength, not weakness, cultural enrichment, not impoverishment.
Tolerance has no meaning if it is predicated only on views and expressions that one finds pleasant, agreeable, and acceptable. Tolerance is of no importance or consequence if it is only about respectful positions and concurring propositions.
In a world plagued by religious persecution, violence and oppression, tolerance is needed to safeguard the plurality of views and beliefs and guarantee peace, stability, and progress.