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UN Experts: “Honour slain French teacher Samuel Paty by defending rights, defying fundamentalism”

UN Special Rapporteurs Karima Bennoune (Cultural Rights) and Ahmed Shaheed (Freedom of religion and belief) have paid tribute to Samuel Paty, a French teacher who was murdered by an Islamist fanatic on 16 October 2020.

Samuel Paty was murdered following a social media campaign that misrepresented his attempts to teach freedom of expression using cartoons. This atrocious and vile act has caused a huge shock among teachers and all citizens committed to freedom of expression.

The UN experts declared that “his killing was an attack on cultural rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, freedom of religion or belief – and of course his right to life.”

“His murder took place against the backdrop of increasing challenges to the separation of religion and state, motivated in particular by fundamentalist actors in civil society (…) The most important ways to honour Mr. Paty’s memory are to champion these very human rights, challenge fundamentalism, uphold respect for pluralism, and ensure the security of those who promote thoughtful academic debate to these ends.”

The experts expressed their solidarity “with Mr. Paty’s family and his colleagues in the field of education who continue his work by promoting human rights education and critical thinking, including through the use of culture and about topics that are deemed controversial or are related to religion or belief.”

They also paid tribute to other persons who have been victim of religious fundamentalism this year, such Afghan folk singer Fawad Andarabi, murdered by Taliban fighters on September 28, shortly after a Taliban spokesman declared that “music is forbidden in Islam.”

The experts also stressed that it is crucial to “effectively challenge fundamentalist and extremist ideologies such as those that motivated their murders, in accordance with international standards.  States must recognize and support the positive role of debate and dissent through cultural and creative expressions and protect those engaging in them.”

 “Mr. Paty sought to use culture to teach about human rights even when doing so was difficult and dangerous (…). His voice may have been silenced but his convictions should continue to inspire all of us to strive harder to create and preserve space for expression and debate. These are essential components of cultural life and of efforts to promote human rights especially amidst growing diversity.”