Islamic States Mark a Decade of ‘Defamation of Religion’ Measures With Another Success

By Patrick Goodenough | March 26, 2009 | 6:12 PM EDT

The U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva. (U.N. Photo by Jean-Marc Ferre)

( – For the tenth year, the United Nations’ top human rights watchdog has passed a resolution on “defamation of religion,” in the face of growing international criticism that its Islamic sponsors are trying to place constraints on free expression.

The Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday approved the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)-proposed resolution by 23-11, while 13 countries abstained.

In a setback for opponents, the resolution won slightly more support than last year’s one, which passed by 21-10, with 14 abstentions.

Countries voting in favor on Thursday included 15 of the 16 countries that are also members of the OIC – Burkina Faso alone went against the OIC line and abstained – along with OIC allies China, Russia, Cuba, South Africa, Angola, Nicaragua, Bolivia and the Philippines.

Canada and Chile joined nine European countries in voting against the motion.

Abstaining were Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Ghana, India, Japan, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mexico, South Korea, Uruguay, and Zambia.

The resolution deplored acts of “psychological and physical violence” against people on the basis of their religion or belief, and against places of worship,  religious symbols and venerated personalities

It said a campaign of defamation of religion had intensified, and included the ethnic and religious profiling of Muslim minorities after 9/11

Introducing the resolution on behalf of the OIC, Pakistan’s envoy Zamir Akram said the recent negative references to Islam and Muslims reflected the hatred of many in the world.

Akram said the resolution expressed concern about the use of media to incite hate against religions and their adherents

Countries were called on, within their respective legal systems, to provide protections against religious hatred or incitement of religious hatred.

Explaining why European Union members would vote against the measure, German delegate Konrad Scharinger noted that religious hatred was not limited to certain religions and beliefs.

He said the E.U. condemned instances of Islamophobia and religious hatred targeting other faiths, and invited others to show their commitment to combating religious intolerance.

Canada’s Terry Cormier pointed out that the resolution continued to focus on one religion above all others.

“It is individuals who have rights, not religions,” he said. “Canada believes that to extend defamation beyond its proper scope would jeopardize the fundamental right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of expression on religious subjects.”

Roy Brown, the International Humanist and Ethical Union’s representative in Geneva, wrote after the vote that the problem which the resolution purports to address – discrimination and incitement to hatred against Muslims – is already covered by international law. (Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibits “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.”)

“So it is clear that the OIC have another reason for pushing these resolutions; namely, extending restrictions on freedom of expression that already exist in the Islamic states – blasphemy laws – into international law, and thereby silencing critics of Islam in the rest of the world,” Brown argued.

Earlier in the week, more than 180 human rights, religious and secularist organizations from around the world in a statement urged the council to reject the resolution, calling it part of an OIC campaign designed to legitimize blasphemy laws and restrict freedom of expression.

This is the third consecutive year that a defamation of religion resolution has passed at the Human Rights Council. Its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, passed one every year since 1999.

Language condemning the defamation of religion was included in a draft declaration for next month’s U.N. conference on racism in Geneva (“Durban II”) but organizers removed it earlier this month after the U.S. and other Western countries objected. A final decision on whether those countries will now attend Durban II is awaited.

See earlier story

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow