Many Supporters of U.N. Resolution against ‘Blasphemy’ Have Terrible Record on Religious Freedom

November 16, 2010 - 5:00 AM

Iran-US Human Rights

Iran is taking the lead in encouraging a tough verdict on the U.S. human rights record when that record comes under review at the United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday. This was the front page of the Tehran Times on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010. (Image: Tehran Times)

(CNSNews.com) - A group of nations on the State Department’s watch list for violations of religious freedom will vote at the U.N. General Assembly in December on a resolution to combat “defamation of religion.” This is the sixth consecutive year in which the General Assembly will vote on the resolution, which is being pushed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

The resolution “urges all States to take all possible measures to promote tolerance and respect for all religions and beliefs and the understanding of their value systems and to complement legal systems with intellectual and moral strategies to combat religious hatred and intolerance.”

However, about a quarter of the OIC nations are on the United States Coalition on International Freedom’s (USCIRF) list of the worst nations when it comes to religious freedom. The USCIRF is a commission established by Congress to monitor the religious freedom policies of other nations and to suggest action in response to these policies.

According to its Web site, the “USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

USCIRF's principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress.”

The USCIRF said the resolution would most likely be used as justification for religious persecution.

“Although touted as a solution to the very real problems of religious persecution and discrimination, the OIC-sponsored UN resolutions on this issue instead provide justification for governments to restrict religious freedom and free expression,” said the USCIRF in a report on its Web site.

“They also provide international legitimacy for existing national laws that punish blasphemy or otherwise ban criticism of a religion, which often have resulted in gross human rights violations,” it added.

Also, Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the conservative Hudson Institute and a commissioner of the USCIRF, said that the OIC-backed resolution does the opposite of advancing religious liberty.

“In the 90s you had Iran and Sudan and others criticized as human rights violators,” she told CNSNews.com. “This would turn the tables, so that actually they would be upholding human rights by punishing their citizens for any critical comments for any aspect of Islam.”

Shea said the motive of the OIC is to “create a new norm” of upholding Islam.

“It’s creating a new norm, a new international norm,” she said. “So, if you allow criticism of Islam, of any aspect of Islam on any Islamic matters – it could be governments who rule in the name of Islam. It could be stoning. It could be any action that’s taken in the name of Islam like violent jihad or honor killings that are done in the name of Islam – criticizing that would be a violation of human rights.”

In its annual report to the State Department, the USCIRF noted some of the laws concerning religious liberty in the OIC-member countries and their effect, for example, in Pakistan.

“Religiously discriminatory legislation, such as the anti-Ahmadi laws and blasphemy laws, foster an atmosphere of intolerance” in Pakistan, said the USCIRF. “Sectarian and religiously motivated violence is chronic, and the government has failed to protect members of religious minorities from such violence and to bring perpetrators to justice,” reported the USCIRF.

The OIC-backed resolution expresses concern over discrimination based on religion: “Deeply alarmed at the rising trends towards discrimination based on religion or belief, including in some national policies, laws and administrative measures that stigmatize groups of people belonging to certain religions and beliefs under a variety of pretexts relating to security and irregular immigration, thereby legitimizing discrimination against them and consequently impairing their enjoyment of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and impeding their ability to observe, practice and manifest their religion freely and without fear of coercion, violence or reprisal.”

But the USCIRF report suggests that many of the nations that are “deeply alarmed” about this discrimination are some of the worst violators themselves.

In their annual report to the State Department, eight of the 13 “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) were OIC nations. OIC countries also filled seven out of 12 spots on USCIRF’s “Watch List.”

Iran is one nation featured on both the USCIRF report and the OIC member roll. According to USCIRF, Iran has been on the CPC list since 1999 and has only gotten worse in its treatment of non-Muslims.

“During the past year, the Iranian government’s poor religious freedom record deteriorated, especially for religious minorities such as Baha’is, Christians and Sufi Muslims, and physical attacks, harassment, detention, arrests, and imprisonment intensified,” the report stated.

“Even the recognized non-Muslim religious minorities – Jews, Armenian and Assyrian Christians, and Zoroastrians – protected under Iran’s constitution faced increasing discrimination and repression. Dissident Muslims were increasingly subject to abuse and several were sentenced to death and even executed for the capital crime of moharebeh (“waging war against God),” the report added.

The USCIRF reports similar findings in Iraq, another nation backing the resolution.

“Recent years in Iraq have seen alarming numbers of religiously-motivated killings, abductions, beatings, rapes, threats, intimidation, forced displacements, forced conversions, and attacks on religious leaders and holy sites. Many Iraqis—Muslim and non-Muslim alike—have suffered in this violence, but those from the country’s smallest, non-Muslim religious minorities have been particularly vulnerable.”

Yet another OIC member on the CPC list is Sudan. Sudan topped the CPC list of offenders of religious liberty from 1999 to 2005 and still is one of the worst.

As the CPC reported, “Violations include: the efforts by the Arab Muslim-dominated government in Khartoum to impose sharia on Muslims and non-Muslims alike; governmental promotion of Sudan’s identity as being Arab and Muslim, thus effectively relegating non-Arabs and non-Muslims to a secondary status in the society; the criminalization of conversion from Islam, a crime punishable by death, and the intense scrutiny, intimidation, and even torture of suspected converts by government security personnel; the denial of the rights of non-Muslims to public religious expression and persuasion, while allowing Muslims to proselytize; and the difficulty in obtaining permission to build churches, as compared to government funding of mosque construction.”