UN Watch Leads 188 NGOs in Global Appeal for Free Speech

Islamic states win another resolution on ‘defamation of religions’; UN Watch leads 188 NGOs in global protest

The Islamic states scored another win today at the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council for their campaign to ban any criticism of religion, with a resolution calling for curbs on free speech to protect Islamic sensitivities. The 23 votes supporting the restrictions showed an increase of two in comparison to last year.

Eleven countries voted No: Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Italy, while 13 abstained, including Bosnia, Brazil, and Mexico.

With the alarming rise in resolutions throughout the U.N. against individual rights, UN Watch initiated a global appeal, together with the International Humanist and Ethical Union, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and Freedom House — along with 184 other non-governmental organizations from more than 50 countries around the world — calling on U.N. member states to protect basic liberties. Our campaign was covered by the Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France Presse, and numerous other media. (See joint NGO statement below, followed by media coverage.)  

The resolution on “defamation of religions” is an attempt to gut the concept of human rights of its original meaning, which is to protect individuals from harm or state control, not to shield a set of beliefs from critical inquiry. Our freedoms of speech and religion are facing a combined assault this week by multiple regressive resolutions at the Council, and proposed provisions for next month’s Durban 2 conference that endorse the Islamic proposal to change a core UN treaty on racism.

For further information:

* Hillel Neuer, “The defamation of human rights, ” Radio Free Europe, December 22, 2008
“Defamation of religions” postings on the UN Watch blog.
Following is the joint NGO statement and list of 188 signatories:


Joint NGO Statement on Danger of U.N. “Defamation of Religions” Campaign

We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations,

Deeply concerned by the pervasive and mounting campaign by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to produce U.N. resolutions, declarations, and world conferences that propagate the concept of “defamation of religions,” a concept having no basis in domestic or international law, and which would alter the very meaning of human rights, which protect individuals from harm, but not beliefs from critical inquiry;

Deeply concerned by the attempt to misuse the U.N. to legitimize blasphemy laws, thereby restricting freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press;

Deeply concerned that “defamation of religions” resolutions may be used in certain countries to silence and intimidate human rights activists, religious dissenters, and other independent voices;
Alarmed by the resolution on “defamation of religions” recently tabled at the current 10th session of the UN Human Rights Council;

Alarmed by the draft resolution on freedom of expression circulated by Egypt, whose amendments seek to restrict, not promote, protections for free speech;

Alarmed by the recently-announced initiative of the U.N. “Ad Hoc Committee on Complementary Standards” to amend the International Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) by adding a protocol on “defamation of religions”;

Alarmed by provisions in the latest draft outcome document of the Durban Review Conference that, through coded language and veiled references, endorse and encourage these anti-democratic initiatives;

1. Call upon all governments to oppose the “defamation of religions” resolution currently tabled at the UN Human Rights Council, and the objectionable provisions of the freedom of expression resolution;

2. Call upon all governments to resist the efforts of the “Ad Hoc Committee on Complementary Standards” to alter the ICERD;

3. Call upon all governments not to accept or legitimize a Durban Review Conference outcome that directly or indirectly supports the “defamation of religions” campaign at the expense of basic freedoms and individual human rights.

1. UN Watch
2. International Humanist and Ethical Union
3. Freedom House
4. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
5. Centre for Political Studies (CEPOS)
6. Muslim Council of Canada
7. International Association of Prosecutors
8. World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission
9. Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty (Italy)
10. The International Quranic Center (IQC)
11. International Press Institute (IPI)
12. Human Rights Without Frontiers International
13. Ligue Internationale Contre le Racisme et l’Antisémitisme (LICRA)
14. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)
15. American Islamic Congress
16. World Union of Progressive Judaism
17. United Nations Association of Mauritius
18. World Jewish Congress
19. Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
20. Association for World Education
21. Association of World Citizens
22. International Publishers Association
23. The Institute for African Alternatives
24. International Jurist Organization
25. Frontiers Association (Lebanon)
26. International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty
27. Rationalist Association
28. Greek Helsinki Monitor
29. British Humanist Association
30. Sidmennt Ethical Humanist Association
31. National Secular Society
32. B’nai B’rith International
33. International Foundation for Population and Development
34. North London Humanist Group
35. Endeavour Forum Inc.
36. Association Suisse des Libres Penseurs
37. Humanist Academy of Scotland
38. Media Institute of Southern Africa (Regional Secretariat and its chapters in 11 SADC countries)
39. American Humanist Association
40. Darfur Peace And Development Centre
41. American Atheists
42. Media Institute (Kenya)
43. Union of Freethinkers
44. Maharat Foundation (Lebanon)
45. Open Doors USA
46. Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji)
47. One Law for All Campaign
48. Organisation against Women’s Discrimination (Iran)
49. The DiaHumanism Institute
50. Women’s international Zionist Organization (WIZO)
51. Canadian Humanist Publications
52. Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS-Azerbaijan)
53. Indian Humanist Union
54. The Tandem Project
55. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
56. International Committee to Protect Freethinkers
57. Center for Security Policy
58. World Citizens Foundation
59. South Sudan Movement in Disapora
60. International PEN Writers in Prison Committee
61. Atheist Foundation of Australia
62. Minority Rights Group (Greece)
63. Nigerian Humanist Movement
64. National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ)
65. Social Development Foundation (India)
66. Swedish Humanist Association
67. Rationalist Forum of Hyderabad (India)
68. Manava Vikasa Vedika (India)
69. European Union of Jewish Students
70. Centre for Study of Society and Secularism ( India)
71. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
72. North East Humanists
73. Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo (ABRAJI)
74. Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES-Nepal)
75. New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists
76. Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina (CADAL)
77. International Council of Jewish Women
78. Humanist Canada
79. NGO Forum (Mauritius)
80. European Humanist Federation
81. Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM-Serbia)
82. Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations
83. Burgerbewegung Pax Europa
84. Media Watch (Bangladesh)
85. Finnish Humanist Union
86. Humanist and Ethical Union of Kenya
87. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI-Egypt)
88. American Jewish Congress
89. Atheist Centre Andhra Pradesh (India)
90. Spurthi Dalit Humanist organisation (India)
91. German Forum for Human Rights
92. Jihad Watch
93. Rationalist Association of NSW
94. Adhra Pradesh Rationalist Association (India)
95. Satya Shodhak Sabha, Gujerat (India)
96. Arab Archives Institute (AAI-Jordan)
97. Open Doors International
98. Council of Australian Humanist Societies
99. Jubilee Campaign USA
100. Simon Wiesenthal Centre
101. Humanist Society of Queensland
102. Algerian Centre for the Defence and Promotion of Press Freedom (CALP)
103. Atheist Alliance International
104. CWA, Switzerland
105. Rationalist Society of Australia
106. Media Rights Agenda (MRA-Nigeria)
107. Humanist Society of New Zealand
108. Consultative Council of Jewish Organisations
109. Center for Inquiry, Low Countries
110. Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers
111. World Union of Jewish Students
112. Humanist Association of Northern Ireland
113. Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS-Venezuela)
114. Center for Religious Freedom of the Hudson Institute
115. Humanist Association of Ottawa
116. Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP-Liberia)
117. Liberté de Conscience
118. Syria Reform Party
119. The Free Press Society (Denmark)
120. International Free Press Society
121. Muslims Against Sharia
122. Centre for the Study of Social Change (India)
123. Danish Atheist Society
124. Mouvement Pour la Paix et Contre le Terrorisme
125. Minnesota Atheists
126. Free Media Movement (FMM-Sri Lanka)
127. Cultural Bridges
128. American Ethical Union
129. Hotline Human Rights (Bangladesh)
130. Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association
131. Women’s Missionary Society AME Church
132. Unie Vrijzinniger Vereningingen (Belgium)
133. Humanistisch Verbond
134. Humanistischer Verband Deutschlands
135. Montagnard Foundation, Inc.
136. Humanist Association of Ireland
137. United American Committee
138. Humanistiche Vrijzinnige Vereniging (Belgium)
139. Quadlibet Strategic Ventures NFP
140. Netradana Protsahaka Sangam (India)
141. Human Rights Service (Norway)
142. Pink Triangle Trust
143. Gujerat Mumbai Rationalist Association
144. Southern California Ecumenical Council
145. Viveka Vidyalayam (India)
146. International Christian Concern
147. The International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA)
148. International Multiracial Shared Cultural Organization
149. Disha Dalit Humanist organization (India)
150. European Union of Public Relations
151. Socio-political Analysis and Research Organization (India)
152. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
153. Jana Vignana Vedika (India)
154. Society of Catholic Social Scientists
155. Society for Humanism and Social Change (India)
156. Evangelical Alliance UK
157. Indian Radical Humanist Association
158. Fondation Genereuse Developpement (FGD-Cameroon)
159. Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association
160. Center for Inquiry International
161. Swedish Youth Humanist Association
162. Religious Freedom Coalition
163. Act for America
164. Belfast Humanist Group
165. Council of ex-Muslims of Britain
166. Unione degli Atei e degli Agnostici Razionalisti (Italy)
167. Secular Student Alliance
168. Summit Ministries
169. Doha Centre for Media Freedom (Qatar)
170. Fire Rescue Development Program
171. Sydney Atheists
172. Adil Soz, International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech (Kazakhstan)
173. European Network Church on the Move
174. Traditional Values Coalition
175. Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
176. Humanist Society of Queensland
177. Jewish Human Rights Coalition (UK)
178. Redeem the Vote
179. Pray in Jesus Name Project
180. Humanist Society of Victoria
181. Index on Censorship
182. Unity Coalition for Israel
183. Sociedad Humanista-etica, Deodoro Roca (Argentina)
184. Secular Party of Australia
185. India Committee of the Netherlands
186. Humanistische Alliatie (Netherlands)
187. Norwegian PEN
188. International Federation of Liberal Youth

U.N. urged to reject bar on defamation of religion
Mar 25, 2009
By Robert Evans

GENEVA (Reuters) – Some 200 secular, religious and media groups from around the world on Wednesday urged the United Nations Human Rights Council to reject a call from Islamic countries for a global fight against “defamation of religion.”

The groups, including some Muslim bodies, issued their appeal in a statement on the eve of a vote in the Council in Geneva on a resolution proposed by the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

Such a resolution, the statement said, “may be used in certain countries to silence and intimidate human rights activists, religious dissenters and other independent voices,” and to restrict freedom of religion and of speech.

The resolution, its critics say, would also restrict free speech and even academic study in open societies in the West and elsewhere.

Islamic countries argue that criticizing or lampooning religions is a violation of the rights of believers and leads to discrimination and violence against them. Cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, first published in a Danish newspaper, sparked riots in the Muslim world in 2006.

The OIC resolution says “Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism” and calls on U.N. member states “to combat defamation of religions and incitement to religious hatred in general …. ”


Similar unbinding resolutions have been passed since 1999 in the U.N. General Assembly and by the 47-nation Human Rights Council, where Islamic countries and others who support them on the issue have a built-in majority.

But activist groups say the latest one — tabled by Pakistan on behalf of the OIC — is part of a growing offensive by the Islamic countries to impose their concepts of rights and religion on the rest of the world.
They argue that the concept of “defamation of religions” is so vague that it can be used against any challenge to a religious tenet and bolster laws against blasphemy in authoritarian regimes where one religion holds sway.

Condemnation of “defamation” was originally included in a draft of a declaration to be issued by a U.N. anti-racism conference, dubbed Durban II, in Geneva next month, but was withdrawn after Western countries said it was unacceptable.

However, critics say they fear OIC states and their allies are working to insert it in an existing U.N. convention against racial discrimination. They say “defamation of religion” has no validity in international law because only individuals, and not concepts or beliefs, can be defamed.

Among the groups signing Wednesday’s statement were the International Humanist and Ethical Union, the Geneva-based U.N. Watch, the Muslim Council of Canada, the American Islamic Congress, the World Jewish Congress, the U.S. Freedom House, and the Paris-based International Press Institute. It was also backed by organizations representing believers, agnostics and atheists in India, Australia, Europe, Africa and Latin America.

Atheists, believers oppose free speech curbs at UN

Associated Press
25 March 2009

GENEVA (AP) – Dozens of atheist and faith groups have called on governments to reject Islamic-backed proposals at the U.N. to restrict free speech on religion.

Christian, Jewish and secular groups say a Human Rights Council resolution to combat “defamation of religion” will worsen relations between faiths.

Free speech supporters and some Muslim groups also opposed Wednesday international limits on criticism of religion. Bennett Graham of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty said that would lead to tit-for-tat accusations of defamation among different faiths.

He said in Geneva that religious discrimination can be prevented with existing human rights laws. Muslim countries are angry over cartoons of their prophet Muhammad, and Western criticism of Sharia law.

NGOs Take Aim at ‘Religious Defamation’
March 26, 2009
By Patrick Goodenough, International Editor

The U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva. – On the eve of yet another United Nations vote on a “defamation of religion” resolution Thursday, a broad range of human rights, press freedom, religious and secularist organizations urged the world body’s Human Rights Council to reject the measure.

Given the makeup of the council – more than half the 47 seats are reserved for African and Asian nations, and Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) members currently hold one-third of the total – the likelihood of the OIC-promoted resolution failing appeared slim.

Still, opponents hope that an apparent trend of dwindling support seen in recent years will continue.

The 2007 HRC vote was 24-9, with 14 abstentions; in 2008 the resolution was passed by 21-10, again with 14 members abstaining. Meanwhile defamation of religion resolutions in the 192-member General Assembly have followed a similar track – the 2007 vote was 108-51, with 25 abstentions; the 2008 resolution passed 86-53, with 42 countries abstaining.

In both the council and General Assembly, the 2008 votes for the first time recorded a larger number of countries opposing or abstaining than those supporting the resolution.

This week’s vote comes towards the end of a month-long HRC session in Geneva, to which the United States returned as an active observer. The Bush administration withdrew last year in response to what it called the council’s “pathetic record.” The U.S. is now widely expected to stand for a council seat in elections in May.

In its draft 2009 resolution, introduced by Pakistan, the OIC says governments should “effectively combat defamation of all religions and incitement to religious hatred in general and against Islam and Muslims in particular.”

As examples of the problem, it cites attempts to associate Islam with “human rights violations and terrorism,” discrimination faced by Muslims since 9/11, including “in the context of the fight against terrorism,” as well as “deliberate stereotyping of religions, their adherents and sacred persons in the media.”

The resolution also expresses dismay about “the inaction of some states to combat this burgeoning trend.”

Although the OIC campaign has resulted in resolutions passing in Geneva every year since 1999, and in the General Assembly annually since 2005, awareness and concern has grown in recent years over what critics see as an attempt to limit free expression and to shield Islam – and some of the more controversial practices associated with it, especially relating to the treatment of women and “apostates” – from critical scrutiny.

Ahead of this week’s vote, almost 200 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – including some in Islamic countries – put their name to an appeal urging the HRC to oppose the defamation of religion resolution.

The statement says the OIC’s “pervasive and mounting campaign” amounts to an attempt to legitimize blasphemy laws and restrict freedom of expression. The resolutions “may be used in certain countries to silence and intimidate human rights activists, religious dissenters, and other independent voices.”

Leading the signatory organizations are U.N. Watch, the International Humanist and Ethical Union, Freedom House and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Others come from every continent, and include Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, human rights, legal and media groups. Participating Islamic NGOs hail from Lebanon, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Qatar, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Sudan, Egypt, Jordan and Syria – as well as from the U.S. and Canada.

The statement also tackles two other, related issues – an initiative by a U.N. “ad-hoc committee” to identify gaps in existing human rights conventions with the view to amending them by inserting a defamation of religion protocol; and provisions in the draft outcome document for next month’s U.N. racism conference (“Durban II”) which it says endorse the religious defamation drive, using “coded language and veiled references.”

The NGOs urge all governments to resist the “ad-hoc committee” effort and to reject a Durban II outcome that supports the defamation of religions campaign – directly or indirectly.

ONU: des ONG contre la condamnation de la diffamation des religions
Agence Belga

Un collectif de 183 organisations non-gouvernementales (ONG) a appelé mercredi le Conseil des droits de l’homme de l’ONU à rejeter un projet de résolution visant à “combattre la diffamation des religions”, considéré par elles comme une menace pour la liberté d’expression.
Les signataires de l’appel se disent “très préoccupés” par le projet de texte déposé le 11 mars par l’Organisation de la Conférence islamique (OCI) qui cherche selon elles “à restreindre, et non promouvoir”, la liberté d’expression.
Ils critiquent un concept “sans aucune base dans le droit national ou international” et en contradiction avec le principe même des droits de l’homme, “qui protègent les individus contre les violences, pas les croyances contre un examen critique”.
Le projet de résolution, déposé par le Pakistan au nom de l’OCI et susceptible d’être soumis au vote des 47 membres du Conseil jeudi ou vendredi à Genève, stipule notamment que “la diffamation des religions constitue une grave atteinte à la dignité humaine menant à des restrictions de la liberté religieuse de ses adeptes et une incitation à la haine religieuse et à la violence”.
Il appelle à “combattre efficacement la diffamation de toutes les religions (…) en général et de l’Islam et des musulmans en particulier”, victimes selon lui d’une stigmatisation accrue depuis les attentats du 11 septembre 2001.
Pour les ONG, ce projet illustre “la campagne insistante et grandissante menée par l’OCI visant à produire des résolutions onusiennes, des déclarations et des conférences mondiales pour propager le concept de ‘diffamation des religions'”.
Ce concept a été retiré dernièrement du projet de déclaration finale de la Conférence contre le racisme, dite de Durban II qui se tient à Genève du 20 au 24 avril.

UN Watch