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Joint statement led by Australia on the death penalty as a punishment for blasphemy and apostasy, 9 March 2021

United Nations Human Rights Council 46th session

The death penalty as a punishment for blasphemy and apostasy

Joint statement led by Australia, Item 3 General Debate

9 March 2021

I have the honour of delivering this statement on behalf of more than 40 states, including my own country, Australia.

The rights to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of peaceful assembly and association are fundamental to the dignity of human life.  These rights are mutually reinforcing, universal, inalienable, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. They are protected in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

And yet, there remain places in the world where a person may be put to death for leaving a religion or for expressing a dissenting opinion about a religion.

There are no circumstances in which the death penalty should ever be imposed or carried out as a sanction against persons for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Even where the death penalty is not carried out in practice, the mere existence of this punishment for blasphemy or apostasy in the laws and regulations of a state has what the Secretary-General has called a “significant chilling effect on the legitimate exercise of human rights”.[1] These laws can be used as a pretext to justify violence in the name of religion.

Religious freedom and tolerance are vital for open and resilient societies. We call on those states where the death penalty remains an available punishment for blasphemy or apostasy to remove the possibility of that penalty being imposed or carried out, both in practice and in law. We urge states to release individuals currently on death row or otherwise imprisoned for these offences.


  1. Albania
  2. Andorra
  3. Argentina
  4. Australia
  5. Austria
  6. Belgium
  7. Brazil
  8. Bulgaria
  9. Canada
  10. Chile
  11. Costa Rica
  12. Croatia
  13. Cyprus
  14. Czech Republic
  15. Denmark
  16. Estonia
  17. Fiji
  18. Finland
  19. France
  20. Germany
  21. Greece
  22. Hungary
  23. Iceland
  24. Ireland
  25. Israel
  26. Italy
  27. Japan
  28. Latvia
  29. Liechtenstein
  30. Lithuania
  31. Luxembourg
  32. Malta
  33. Mexico
  34. Monaco
  35. Montenegro
  36. Netherlands
  37. New Zealand
  38. North Macedonia
  39. Norway
  40. Poland
  41. Portugal
  42. Romania
  43. San Marino
  44. Slovakia
  45. Slovenia
  46. Spain
  47. Sweden
  48. Switzerland
  49. Ukraine
  50. United Kingdom
  51. United States

[1] “Capital punishment and the implementation of the safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty, Yearly supplement of the Secretary-General to his quinquennial report on capital punishment”, A/HRC/42/28

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