The recent violence in the Middle East and beyond on the movie on Prophet Mohammed has rekindled the defamation debate at the United Nations.

Last week, South Africa, on behalf of the African group, put forward a resolution which sent shockwaves to many capitals around the world. The text proposed to bring back a lot of the inflammatory and divisive language that surrounded the defamation resolutions. The impression was that the defamation resolutions were history following the adoption of resolution 16/18, which was hailed as a “landmark achievement.”

However, divisive language was included in this year’s annual African text on racism. The proposed resolution included references such as “deplores the use of print, audiovisual and electronic media, including the Internet, and any other means to incite acts of national, racial or religious violence, xenophobia or related intolerance and discrimination against any religion, as well as the targeting of religious symbols and venerated persons.” Such language is unacceptable in a human rights framework, as religions, symbols or venerated persons are not the bearers of rights; instead the individual is the bearer of human rights.

After three public negotiation sessions and numerous other behind-closed-door consultations most of the inflammatory language has been removed [see new language in red, old language crossed out]. However, many concerns remain with this resolution. For example, it perpetuates the Durban Declaration, a failed and polarized vehicle to fight racism. Second, it continues to create a hierarchy among victims of racism. Lastly, it bundles all cases of racism in Africa as one, branding them “afrophobia,” when the reality is far more complicated.

The resolution will be formally adopted tomorrow when we shall see then the final text and the result of the vote, if one is called. In addition, there are fears that a resolution on defamation will be adopted by the UN General Assembly, whose annual session started this week and last for a few months. The United Nations and the international community have failed so far to address the important issue of racism in an impartial and constructive way and urgently need to find a new approach to the whole issue.


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