The controversial issue of defamation of religion took centerstage at this afternoon’s Durban Ad Hoc Committee meeting. Still unable to adopt its program of work, the committee has decided to discuss agenda items unofficially, with hopes that it will have more luck in reaching consensus on a per item basis. However, Islamic countries quickly moved the discussion away from discrimination on the basis of religion, to defamation of religion, an item that had been removed from the official program of work. This elicited strong resistance from Western countries, which argued that protection from religious discrimination should not create restrictions on freedom of expression.

  • Pakistan for the OIC asserted that the “OIC considers defamation of religion the most dangerous in terms of contemporary forms of religious discrimination.” It also circulated its own proposal with new language.
  • Mexico for the Cross-Regional Group expressed concern at associating racial and religious discrimination. It condemned the notion that “certain religions are the recipients of human rights law.” The delegation proposed publishing a digest of case studies based on the Human Rights Committee’s work on discrimination on the basis of religion.
  • The United States, reaffirming its support for engagement with religious minorities, said that defamation of religion is “a fundamentally flawed concept.”
  • Iran maintained that “the defamation of religion, particularly of Islam, requires the greatest attention.”
  • Sweden for the EU argued that international human rights law protects individuals, not institutions or religions, and France insisted that the UN must not afford legal protection to systems of belief.
  • Syria said, “One delegate advocated silence on acts of religious discrimination.  This is a typical and expected Western silence.  It is necessary to understand that in real terms defamation means targeting Muslims as such.  It means a direct incitement against all followers of this religion, its houses of worship and symbols.”

Reporting by Cindy Tan and Bethany Singer-Baefsky

UN Watch