What's In Blue

Posted Wed 14 Jun 2023

Briefing on “The Values of Human Fraternity” and Vote on a Draft Resolution on Tolerance and International Peace and Security*

This morning (14 June), as one of the signature events of its Council presidency, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will convene a high-level briefing on “The Values of Human Fraternity in Promoting and Sustaining Peace” under the “Maintenance of international peace and security” agenda item. UAE Minister of State Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi will chair the meeting. The expected briefers are Secretary-General António Guterres; Sheikh Ahmed Muhammed Ahmed Aṭ-Ṭayyeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar; Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States and International Organisations of the Holy See; and a civil society representative.

Following the briefing, members are expected to vote on a draft resolution on tolerance and international peace and security co-authored by the UAE and the UK. This is a parallel—although related—initiative to this morning’s high-level briefing on human fraternity.

High-level Briefing

During the 1 June press conference on the Security Council’s programme of work for the month, Ambassador Lana Zaki Nusseibeh (UAE) said that the Security Council “has not always consistently addressed hate speech, racism and other forms of extremism as threat multipliers that drive the outbreak, escalation and recurrence of conflict”, adding that it was a key priority for the UAE to “push for a more consistent and effective approach”.

According to the concept note prepared by the UAE ahead of today’s meeting, the briefing intends to highlight the “impact of intolerance, hate speech and incitement to hatred, racism and other manifestations of extremism in exacerbating threats across the peace continuum”. The concept note says that one of the objectives of the meeting is “to raise awareness of the pivotal role that the values of human fraternity can play in promoting and sustaining peace and preventing intolerance and extremism” and to strengthen measures by the UN, member states, and other actors to address the “drivers of intolerance and extremism”.

The concept note poses several questions to help guide the discussion at today’s meeting, including:

  • What gaps exist in the current UN peace operations and peacebuilding mechanisms to address conflict exacerbated by hate speech, intolerance, racism, and other manifestations of extremism?
  • What measures and approaches can the international community, including the Security Council, take to address intolerance and hate speech and promote reconciliation and peacebuilding in conflict-affected societies?
  • How can we strengthen the role of religious and community leaders, including women leaders, to promote tolerance and coexistence and prevent the abuse of religion?

At today’s meeting, some members may welcome the theme of the high-level briefing and say that it can make a useful contribution to Council discussions. Other members may take a more circumspect approach and underscore the importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Members may highlight a range of factors that can strengthen societies’ resilience and capacity to build sustainable peace—such as education and the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women—and highlight exclusion and inequality as root causes of conflict. Some participants may share examples of interreligious and intercultural dialogues and of mediation and reconciliation processes led by religious and community leaders.

Draft Resolution

The initiative for a Security Council resolution on tolerance and international peace and security is consistent with previous efforts by the UAE and the UK on similar issues at the UN. For instance, the UAE—together with Bahrain, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia—led an initiative for a General Assembly resolution proclaiming 4 February as the International Day of Human Fraternity, which was adopted by consensus on 21 December 2020 (A/RES/75/200). In March 2021, the UK organised an Arria-formula meeting titled “Religion, Belief and Conflict: the protection of members of religious and belief groups in conflict and religious actors in conflict resolution”. It seems that the UK had also circulated a draft resolution on the issues covered in the Arria-formula meeting to the five permanent members of the Council. However, the initiative was apparently shelved following opposition from at least one permanent member.

On 16 May, the UAE and the UK circulated the first draft of a resolution on tolerance and international peace and security and then presented it to Council members at an informal meeting on 18 May. After holding a first round of negotiations on 22 May, the co-penholders circulated a revised draft of the resolution on 25 May. Following a second round of negotiations on 30 May, a second revised draft was circulated on 2 June and put under silence until 5 June. Silence was broken by France and Switzerland and, separately, by the US. After silence was broken, Malta expressed support for the issues raised by France, Switzerland, and the US. Other members—including Brazil, China, Japan, Ecuador, and Russia—later sent comments. Following the silence break, the co-penholders engaged bilaterally with members over several days with the aim of resolving a number of outstanding issues. On 12 June, a third revised draft was circulated and put under silence until 11 am yesterday (13 June). However, France and Switzerland again broke silence. After additional consultations, a further draft was put in blue yesterday evening and a vote was scheduled for this afternoon.

The draft resolution in blue recognises that “hate speech, racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, related forms of intolerance, gender discrimination, and acts of extremism can contribute to driving the outbreak, escalation and recurrence of conflict” and urges states and international and regional organisations “to publicly condemn violence, hate speech and extremism motivated by discrimination including on the grounds of race, ethnicity, gender, religion or language, in a manner consistent with applicable international law, including the right to freedom of expression”. It also underlines “the potential contributions of ethnic, religious and confessional communities and religious leaders” to the prevention and resolution of conflicts as well as to reconciliation and peacebuilding, among other issues.

The negotiations on the draft resolution were difficult. A fundamental issue for some Council members was to adequately balance language addressing the use of hate speech in the draft text with language protecting human rights, in particular freedom of expression. It seems that at least one member expressed concern that proposed language on hate speech fell below the standard set in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. While some language on human rights was added in response to these concerns—including, in the third revised draft, a reference to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—it seems that when France and Switzerland broke silence yesterday they argued that the balance presented in the third draft was still unsatisfactory.

A specific concern for several members—including Brazil, France, Malta, Switzerland, and the US—was the use in the draft resolution of the term “extremism” without it being preceded by the qualifier “violent”. These members stressed that the unqualified use of the term “extremism” was too broad, and expressed concern about endorsing language that could be used restrictively, including to target freedom of expression. In the days preceding the vote, some civil society organisations, too, warned against the use of the term “extremism” not qualified by “violent” in the draft resolution.

It seems that the co-penholders maintained that a key objective of the resolution was to address extremism before it reaches the point of being violent, including through the promotion of tolerance and peaceful coexistence as preventive measures. During the negotiations, they added language contextualising references to “extremism” by, for instance, referring to “extremism driving the outbreak, escalation and recurrence of conflict”. After France and Switzerland broke silence on 13 June, a direct reference to “the right to freedom of expression” was added to a paragraph urging states, regional and international organisations “to publicly condemn violence, hate speech and extremism” in a manner consistent with international law. References to “violent extremism”, however, were not included in the draft text in blue. At the time of writing, it was unclear if the changes made on this issue will be sufficient to address the concerns raised by France and Switzerland.

A key goal for some Council members during the negotiations was to widen the overall scope of the draft resolution from focusing mainly on intolerance and discrimination on religious grounds to also include other grounds of discrimination. Arguing for a more inclusive approach to tolerance, members such as Ecuador, France, Switzerland, and Malta asked for stronger language on human rights, gender, and women, peace and security (WPS) to be included in the draft. It seems that China and Russia opposed this language, and that, after silence was broken on 5 June, Russia asked for all text on WPS and human rights to be removed from the draft. Such language was, nevertheless, gradually strengthened in the course of the negotiations.

While some members apparently supported the use of the term “fraternity” in the resolution, others opposed it, citing, among other issues, the gendered and non-inclusive root of the term and the lack of clarity around the term’s meaning. An additional concern was that references to “human fraternity” in the draft resolution could be interpreted as endorsing the content of the 4 February 2019 document on “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” signed by Pope Francis and Grand Imam of al-Azhar Aṭ-Ṭayyeb; particularly its condemnation of abortion. To address these concerns, the co-penholders deleted a reference to the 4 February 2019 meeting and removed all language on “human fraternity” except for text taking note of the International Day of Human Fraternity proclaimed by the 21 December 2020 General Assembly resolution.

Another friction point was a reporting requirement proposed by the co-penholders. The first draft text requested the Secretary-General to submit an annual report to the Council on the resolution’s implementation. It appears that introducing a regular reporting requirement was an important issue for the co-penholders, who argued that regularly receiving information on issues such as hate speech, extremism, and intolerance could help the Council better to tackle these issues and, ultimately, prevent conflict. However, at different points in the negotiations, several members expressed reservations about the proposed annual report. While some members’ concerns were related to the possible budgetary implications of the reporting requirement, it appears that other members altogether challenged the need for a periodic report on the implementation of the resolution.

In an apparent compromise, the draft resolution in blue requests the Secretary-General to provide, by 14 June 2024, an oral briefing to the Council on “the implementation of this resolution in the context of situations throughout the peace continuum which are on the agenda of the Council” during a public meeting under the “Maintenance of international peace and security” agenda item. The draft text in blue also requests that the Secretary-General swiftly inform the Council “about threats to international peace and security in this regard”.


*Post-script: On 14 June, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2686 on tolerance and international peace and security. The vote, which was initially scheduled for the afternoon, was moved up to the morning session and took place immediately following the high-level briefing. Several Council members delivered explanations of vote. While voting in favour of the text, France regretted that the resolution was selective and “too weak” on such issues as freedom of expression, human rights, women’s rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, adding that it contained “a conception of extremism which is potentially liberticide”. In its explanation of vote, Switzerland said that “the term ‘extremism’, without the word ‘violent’, leaves room for a broader interpretation that could arbitrarily be used against individuals and groups exercising their freedom of expression and opinion”, adding that it had “ensured that the term is sufficiently contextualised and that human rights are anchored in the text”.

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