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:
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 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.
U.N. urged to reject bar on defamation of religion
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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