13:00 - 14:30
Professor Rosa Freedman
Lectures, talks and seminars
Human Rights Centre Speaker Series
Human Rights Centre
Instrumentalising Religion to Challenge Universal Human Rights: The United Nations Human Rights Council and the Politicisation of Human Rights
This talk explores recent and current challenges to the universality of human rights that states are advancing within UN intergovernmental human rights bodies. Focusing on recent attempts to claim that human rights law requires States to protect religions from “defamation” and to safeguard “traditional values,” and a conservative understanding of “the Family,” This speaker series will demonstrate that a group of States are supporting a sustained, widespread challenge to universality that requires attention.
Each of these individual initiatives is not a flash-in-the-pan but rather part of a cynical and systematic attempt to undermine international human rights law using religion or religious discourse as a shield for justifying those violations.
The starting point is that universalism is the agreed UN position in relation to human rights: all individuals have fundamental rights by virtue of being born human. Those rights may be limited or derogated from in certain circumstances, but cannot be denied to a person based on their characteristics. Moreover, human rights can only be properly understood to protect people, not abstract concepts or State sovereignty. States are employing pernicious politicization to challenge universalism through UN intergovernmental bodies and seek both to undermine the coherence of human rights law and also to justify violations of human rights. And they are doing so using the language of religion or religious discourse in an attempt to mask States’ motivations to avoid their international human rights law obligations.
This talk will focus on how such politicisation of human rights is being used in an attempt to undermine freedom of religion and belief of minorities, freedom of expression, women’s rights, and the rights of LGBT+ persons. The talk will explore the different ways in which states are instrumentalising religion to advance block rights of persons or advance non-persons as rights-holders as part of a long-term strategy to replace universalism with cultural relativism, and to prioritise religious doctrine over human rights. Drawing on examples from the past ten years, including ones Professor Rosa Freedman have been involved in resisting, this talk will explore and explain how States use the UN Human Rights Council when seeking to achieve those aims, and the politics and processes involved in blocking such attempts.