Working Session #7 of the 2017 OSCE HDIM was based on the concepts of tolerance and non-discrimination, with a focus on combating racism, xenophobia, and discrimination; combating anti-Semitism and intolerance and discrimination against Christians, Muslims, and members of other religions; and prevention and response to hate crimes in the OSCE area.
Soteria international addressed the fact that freedoms come hand in hand with obligations, or responsibilities. We cannot just claim our rights without considering, also, our obligations and the consequences of our actions. Words have power; even in the physical world. What we say can affect the physical welfare of a person, a group of people, or even a nation. We, therefore, suggest, that holding ourselves accountable to what we say and do with our opinions or ideas is the solution in correctly implementing the freedom of expression. Exercising self-control by learning how to control our speech, while also considering the fact that we all have different capacities to handle words or criticism. It is limiting someone’s freedom of speech when asking them to behave properly, with common sense, and with respect for others.
The intervention can be accessed on the OSCE website, as well as, read below:
OSCE – HDIM 2017
WORKING SESSION 7 – Tolerance and non-discrimination 1, 14 Sept 2017
Freedom of Expression and Religious Rights: Rights and Obligations
Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Expression are points of concern in all OSCE member states. The complex interaction between these fundamental freedoms has changed in the last decade, through the impact of social media and demographic changes related to immigration. Freedom of expression and Freedom of thought, conscience and belief often seem to clash in the form of blasphemy, discrimination, hate-crimes etc. Still, freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience and belief are two sides of the same fundamental inner human need to express and live by ones’ own heart, without denying anyone else the same freedom.
All who engage in social media need to be aware that freedom of expression is not an absolute right in the public sphere.
Freedom of thought, conscience and belief is a central commitment in all OSCE member states, and constitute the basis of tolerance and non-discrimination. Despite many national and international efforts, individuals and religious or belief communities face a range of issues characterized by intolerance, discrimination, and hate speech towards their beliefs. These challenges have profound roots in the lack of education at a social level.
At the core of the human rights dimension lies the commitment to combat all forms of intolerance and discrimination, including hate crime, and to promote mutual respect and understanding.
On the other hand, freedom of expression, in its turn, is a fundamental right protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and may be exercised while presuming to respect certain conditions. Freedom of expression is seen as a prime necessity in a democratic society. However, together with the rights come a series of obligations that are interdependent with other values, human rights, and freedoms protected by treaties.
Among the obligations related to the right to freedom of expression is the intent to protect human dignity and the respect for the reputation and the rights of others, including freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Where is the limit to which freedom of expression can be manifested without prejudice to an individual's freedom of freedom of thought, conscience and religion? Freedom of conscience ensures that everyone is free to form their own beliefs about the world in which they live and how social life unfolds. The protection of minority opinions is an essential component of pluralism and tolerance in any democratic society.
What one should understand is that freedom of expression is not an absolute right, but is regulated by law and through responsibility. One may freely express oneself, but in doing so, one should not commit an abuse and damage the rights or reputation of others by making false and misleading statements. Unfortunately, this recommendation is largely ignored, and, thus, often not respected across all levels, whether in governmental institutions, mass media, or on the individual level. The result is that this perceived total freedom of expression, without including the obligation not to harm the dignity of others, does indeed have the capacity to harm.
We feel there is a need to open the dialogue between various members of society on the topic of Freedom of Expression with the hope of increasing our understanding for one another and to find a way to embrace various beliefs in the increasingly globalized European context, while adhering to the shared moral code of conduct and rule of law.
The Fundamental Rights Agency has published a report on discrimination, hatred, or violence against specific groups as seen in the media and political sphere in Denmark, the country in which our organization is based. Their conclusion was that, both, the media and political discourse incite to discrimination, hatred, or violence against specific groups. Especially concerning is the spread of false accusations in our era of social media. For example, in 2015 in Denmark, 60/198 cases of registered hate crime were religiously motivated, the majority of which were aimed at religious minorities.
So we ask you, does the existing legislation, its implementation, educational policies, strategies, and programmes provide sufficient safeguards for the protection of freedom of belief and choice of religious path against abuse and misleading conduct in the name of freedom of expression?