USA and Canada stand up for free-speech, oppose “defamation of religions” concept

Consultations on the Pakistani-sponsored “Defamation of Religions” Human Rights Council resolution continued today at the U.N. Human Rights Council with the USA and Canada proposing various amendments to significantly change the draft. The UK for the EU said that it was not proposing any textual changes because the Pakistani chair had said in the previous session that he would not consider making “fundamental” revisions.

The USA and Canada objected to the singling out of Islam for protection in the text, saying that various groups have been subjected to religious intolerance and discrimination. The USA also complained about a paragraph describing a “campaign” of defamations of religions since September 11, 2001, saying that this is “very inaccurate.”

The USA proposed inserting wording that “expresses deep concern that religion has been exploited to advance political agendas and regrets measures advanced by states to inappropriately monitor religious activities.” Pakistan as chair replied that this amendment would make the section say “totally the opposite” of what was originally intended.

The USA also objected to a paragraph that implicitly advocated restrictions on the media, saying that it is concerned that this paragraph could be used to legitimize the high volume of attacks on journalists worldwide. It also argued that a clause that suggests a ban on “intolerant” expression be struck, because there is a difference between mere “intolerant” language and language that actually “incites” hatred.

Canada suggested that all mentions of “defamation of religions” be changed to “incitement to religious hatred.” It opposed the phrase “stereotyping religions,” saying that there can only be stereotyping of “persons based on their religion.” Moreover, Canada objected to the deploring of “psychological violence,” explaining that this is an unclear term. Canada also said that every time a limitation on freedom of expression is advocated in the text, there should be a “reaffirmation of the right itself.”

There was some debate on why this resolution was being proposed under the racism agenda item when, in fact, it deals with religion. Pakistan explained that it is trying to highlight how racist and xenophobic attitudes can manifest themselves as religious intolerance. The USA still stated that it had concerns with the link of this issue to racism, and that, if any Special Rapporteur is mentioned in the text, it should be the one on freedom of religion or belief, not the one on racism.

Belarus, backed by Singapore, proposed a new paragraph that would reaffirm the “Global Counterterrorism Strategy” adopted by the General Assembly, in which states committed not to associate any religion or group with terrorism. The paragraph also stressed the need to prevent “defamation of religions.”