Minority Rights Summer School, NUI Galway, 13-17 June

The tenth annual Minority Rights & Indigenous Peoples Summer School will take place from June 13-17, 2011, at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, NUI Galway. This highly acclaimed course gives an overview of the legal, political and philosophical issues pertaining to international human rights law and its relationship to minority rights and the rights of indigenous peoples. In addition, each year it gives a more in-depth perspective on a particular theme, which this year is religion.

Minorities and Religion

Religion has a fraught relationship with minority and human rights standards, being perceived at once as a right and a cause of the denial of rights. The theme of this year’s school highlights religion in contemporary minority rights discourse, focussing on issues such as: religious minorities, religion and international institutions, Islam in Europe, caste, indigenous peoples and spiritual beliefs, women and religion, genocide and defamation of religion.

The list of speakers and registration details can be seen here. It promises to be a lively and engaging course, and a unique opportunity to hear a range of insights on this fascinating and complex area.

Minority Rights Summer School, NUI Galway, 13-17 June

Life of Brian & the Defamation Act

Today at 4:30pm the Rio Cinema in Hackney, East London will show the classic Monty Python satire, The Life of Brian. Released in 1979, The Life of Brian is enjoying its thirtieth Easter. The well from which a thousand popular culture references can be drawn, the film was banned in Ireland for eight years (from its release in 1979 until 1987). An old family anecdote has my uncle sneaking a copy of it into the house without my grandmother’s knowledge – the same grandmother asked to borrow the DVD last year to see, at long last, what all the fuss was about. Twenty-three years after the lifting of the ban on Brian it might now fall foul of the Defamation Act 2009 on grounds of criminal blasphemy (see previous posts here and here). Section 36 of the Act makes it an offence to intentionally publish or utter “matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion”. It’s worth wondering if the Life of Brian still has the ability to cause outrage in modern Ireland, but if it did, then a cinema screening it might be caught by the section. However, the Director of Public Prosecutions may enjoy his day off: my quick search of internet listings found no Irish cinema showing the film today. Anyone that may be screening the movie can take comfort that it is a defence to “prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates”. After thirty years, the Pythons’ reasonableness is surely beyond doubt. All of us here at HRinI hope you enjoy your Bank Holiday weekend – whatever you’re celebrating.

Life of Brian & the Defamation Act

U.S. State Department Religious Freedom Report 2009: Ireland

The U.S. Department of State released its annual Report on International Religious Freedom on Monday. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, introducing the Report, touched again on the theme of defamation of religion, noting that:

But an individual’s ability to practice his or her religion has no bearing on others’ freedom of speech. The protection of speech about religion is particularly important since persons of different faiths will inevitably hold divergent views on religious questions. These differences should be met with tolerance, not with the suppression of discourse.

Now, the section of the report which deals with Ireland probably won’t attract the attention of the international press but it certainly makes for hair-raising reading.  Perhaps the report is deliberately light on detail. Perhaps it deliberately selects a narrow conception of religious freedom. Whatever its design, the Report gives a very misleading picture of the state of religious freedom in Ireland.

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U.S. State Department Religious Freedom Report 2009: Ireland

Defamation of Religion and Ireland's Hypocrisy(?)

The long-standing debate about the possibility of finding a place for a concept of ‘defamation of religion’ in international human rights law continues. On October 2, the UN Human Rights Council passed (without a vote) a Resolution on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, condemning ‘stereotyping of religion’. The document is available here and you can see webcasts of the discussion leading up to the Resolution here. Recent news on Ireland’s role in this controversy appears after the jump, but a little background may be necessary first. The ostensible  aim of these Resolutions has been to meet the impact of Islamophobia, but there are also concerns that the project which inspires them would go further, inhibiting freedom of speech. The Council in its October Resolution:

Reaffirms … the right of everyone to hold opinions without interference, as well as the right to freedom of expression, including … the intrinsically linked rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion….

Also expresses its concern that incidents of racial and religious intolerance, discrimination and related violence, as well as of negative racial and religious stereotyping continue to rise around the world, and condemns, in this context, any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, and urges States to take effective measures, consistent with their obligations under international human rights law, to address and combat such incidents

The Resolution is notable for the absence of a focus on the concept of ‘defamation of religion,’ which had been the centrepiece of a series of increasingly controversial Resolutions adopted at various U.N. bodies since 1999.  It appears to be replaced with the language of ‘stereotyping’, which moves condemnation away from what is said about a religion to the consequences of those statements for the faithful. Nevertheless, the focus on ‘religion’ as opposed to religious individuals has been roundly criticised; in particular by the Becket Fund Jean-Baptiste Mattei of France, speaking for the EU, was careful to insist that the language of stereotyping could only be understood to refer to individuals. The European Union member states have been especially critical of the Resolutions for some time. You can read more about the earlier Resolutions in this article by Elizabeth Kendal in the International Journal of Religious Freedom.

The United States co-sponsored the October 2009 Resolution with Egypt. The United States now holds a seat on the UNHRC, after a significant period of disengagement from the body and, as was noted on IntLawGrrls, the compromise Resolution is vulnerable to the criticism that it has as much to do with the Obama Administration’s attempts to reach out to the ‘Muslim World’ as with any rigorous endeavour to safeguard human rights. As an aside, Eugene Volokh makes the argument that the Resolution may conflict with the U.S. constitutional framework which balances freedom of religion with freedom of speech.

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Defamation of Religion and Ireland's Hypocrisy(?)