NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief

Protecting freedom of thought and conscience within the international community of nations


Safeguarding the rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression in the digital age

Sponsors: The Non-Governmental Organizations Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Article 19 and APC
When: 23 October 2019, 3:00pm – 4:00pm
Where: Baha’i International Center, 866 UN Plaza, #120, New York


Hatred and persecution of individuals and groups on the basis of their religion or belief is reportedly on the rise. According to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “[h]ate is moving into the mainstream – in liberal democracies and authoritarian systems alike”, playing out in online and offline spaces. Though violence motivated by hatred on grounds of religion or belief is frequent and widespread, several recent acts of extreme violence have brought into sharp relief the imperative to take action to protect rights and address the root causes of hate.

UN human rights experts have expressed increasing concern that political leaders are spreading fear for political ends, while simultaneously failing to act against the root causes of hate. They are even enacting measures that close space for legitimate expression and dissent, including online, with disproportionate impacts on already marginalized communities.

Notwithstanding increased global attention to these issues, very few States are taking the opportunity to report to the UN on the actions they are taking to tackle hatred.i

Addressing hate online necessarily requires social media companies to abide by their responsibilities to respect rights. UN experts have been clear that private actors must root their policies in rights, adopt a radically new approach to transparency, and establish real accountability mechanisms in order to ensure that their content moderation policies do not silence marginalized groups for no legitimate reason and are responsive to the needs of victims of hate. In light of enhanced efforts by the Global Internet Forum to Counter-Terrorism to tackle “violent extremism” online, including as part of efforts to implement the Christchurch Call to Action, the need to safeguard both the rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression in the digital sphere is especially important.

Both Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Ahmed Shaheed and Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression David Kaye has repeatedly expressed concern to governments about these trends, and in October 2019, they will present reports to the Third Committee of the General Assembly reiterating concerns about persistently rising religious intolerance and the impact that varying policies online content moderation are having on rights-holders on the ground. This provides a crucial opportunity for States and civil society to explore how to reinvigorate existing efforts and initiatives to confront hate and protect rights through multilateral coordination, multi-stakeholder cooperation, and national implementation of the significant body of UN guidance to States, including UN resolutions to promote freedom of religion or belief and tackle religious intolerance, online and offline. This is particularly timely in light of the UN Secretary-General’s recent launch of the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech and the upcoming meeting of the Istanbul Process, scheduled to take place in the Netherlands in November 2019.

Join the Special Rapporteurs and the co-sponsors to discuss these trends, and good practices in addressing the root causes of discrimination and violence while protecting human rights.


  • Ahmed Shaheed

UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

  • David Kaye

UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression

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