(CNSNews.com) – An Islamic-led campaign against religious “defamation” has taken another blow the United Nations, where support among member states has dropped to a new low amid escalating concerns that defamation resolutions endanger non-Muslims in Islamic societies and harm freedom of expression.
While much of the world’s attention was focused on Copenhagen late last week, the U.N. General Assembly passed a range of human rights-related resolutions. For critics of the world body the results were mixed.
The latest in a string of religious defamation resolutions considered by the General Assembly and human rights bodies over the past decade saw more countries than ever oppose the measure.
The resolution passed by 80 votes to 61 against, with 42 countries abstaining. The result is the worst ever for the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) member states and their allies, many of them not free democracies. It marks a continuing decline since 2007, when in the wake of the Mohammed newspaper cartoon furor a similar resolution passed by a vote of 108-51, with 25 abstentions.
Not only has the number of countries opposing the move climbed (see graph), but several member states in the developing world have moved from supporting the resolutions to abstaining.
Ten countries in Latin America and the Asia-Pacific moved from abstaining in 2008 to opposing the OIC resolution this year – Chile, Mexico, Uruguay, Panama, St. Lucia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, Vanuatu, Nauru and Tonga.
Another five states which supported the resolution last year abstained this time – Honduras, Jamaica, Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda and Lesotho.
Moving in the other direction, Liberia, Cape Verde and Belize abstained this year, having opposed the OIC resolution in 2008; and Congo moved from abstaining last year, to supporting the resolution this time.
The OIC argues that Islam and its teachings, symbols and prophetic figures are being denigrated by non-Muslims as a result of ignorance, fear and prejudice.
But critics charge that the OIC is trying to shield Islam, Islamic practices and clerics from legitimate examination, noting that it is in some Islamic countries themselves that non-Muslim beliefs and activities are proscribed.
The drive to have defamation of religion outlawed has triggered a growing counter-campaign by freedom of expression groups, humanist organizations, and advocates for the rights of Christians and other non-Muslim minorities in the Islamic world, including coverts from Islam who are considered “apostates.”
Although the resolutions are non-binding, they are taking place in conjunction with a separate OIC-led push to have an existing, legally-binding anti-racism treaty, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), amended to cover speech deemed as religiously defamatory.
In a letter written to member states ahead of the vote, Angela Wu, international law director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty – a leading opponent of the resolutions – argued that the measures “provide international support for domestic blasphemy laws that have been used by oppressive regimes to silence, rather than protect, vulnerable minorities and dissenters.”
Wu contested the very concept of religious defamation, saying the human rights law systems is meant to protect individuals, not ideas or religions.
‘Peace for all humankind’
Speaking on behalf of the OIC in the General Assembly, Syrian delegate Warif Halabi said that Islam and Muslims were being portrayed in a “demonic” way, citing “negative” media coverage, intolerance fostered by scholars and political parties, and “anti-Muslim legislation” including moves to restrict the construction of places of worship.
She called on countries to take all possible legal and administrative steps to prevent “anti-Islamic” regulations.
OIC states were “deeply concerned that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism, based on ignorance and misconception of the true nature and teaching of Islam.”
Islam was a religion implying “peace for all humankind” and it advocated respect for all religious beliefs, Halabi said.
“The OIC expects the international community to express its unequivocal opposition to all acts of Islamophobia.”