Critics welcome 'defamation' decline in U.N.

WASHINGTON (BP)--A United Nations body has again approved a controversial "defamation of religions" resolution, but its support continues to decline.

Resolution opponents, who fear a binding version would harm global religious freedom and undergird anti-blasphemy laws like those in some Islamic states, disapproved of the U.N. Human Rights Council's latest vote on the issue but welcomed its weakened backing.

The council's vote on a non-binding resolution at a recent meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, was 20-17 in favor, with eight abstentions. Last year, the vote was 23-11, with 13 abstentions.

In December, the U.N. General Assembly passed a "defamation of religions" measure, again by a reduced margin from the previous year. The latest General Assembly vote was 80-61 in support, with 42 abstentions.

"This is a really dangerous and bad idea masquerading as a good one, and the fact that it keeps losing support shows that the masquerade is being exposed," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

Leonard Leo, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said, "It is heartening that more countries are recognizing the dangerous nature of these resolutions, which seek to create a global blasphemy law, like those found domestically in Pakistan, Iran and Egypt that are routinely used to oppress religious minorities and political dissidents.

"The United States, and all other rights-supporting countries, must redouble their efforts to ensure that the misguided and repressive 'defamation of religions' concept does not make its way into binding international law," Leo said in a written statement.

A "defamation of religions" resolution calls for the condemnation of messages that defame religions and can lead to violence.

This year's measure, like last year's, cited only Islam as a specific target and urged countries to protect "against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions and incitement to religious hatred in general, and to take all possible measures to promote tolerance and respect for all religions and beliefs." It also asked for a report on "all manifestations of defamation of religions, and in particular on the ongoing serious implications of Islamophobia."

Pakistan, a Muslim state, introduced the latest resolution in the U.N. Human Rights Council, as it did last year. The 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference has been the primary promoter of the resolution in the U.N.

The United States opposed the latest resolution in the Human Rights Council. In explaining the vote, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, American ambassador to the council, expressed concern that governments likely would abuse individual rights because of the resolution, according to a U.N. news release.

USCIRF's Leo commended the U.S. State Department and members of Congress for working against the resolution.

In October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her disapproval of the "defamation of religions" movement, saying the American experience shows "the best antidote to intolerance is not the defamation of religion's approach of banning and punishing offensive speech but, rather, a combination of robust legal protections against discrimination and hate crimes, proactive government outreach to minority religious groups and the vigorous defense of both freedom of religion and expression."

The ERLC joined more than 100 other organizations in November in a statement opposing "defamation of religions" resolutions. Such measures are "incompatible with the fundamental freedoms of individuals to freely exercise and peacefully exercise their thoughts, ideas and beliefs" and do not protect the rights of individuals as affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the U.N.'s founding documents, the statement said.

"Defamation of religions" resolutions support laws in some countries that prohibit blasphemy and are used to oppress religious or political beliefs that are out of favor with the government, according to the statement. The document makes no direct reference to Islam, though some Muslim-dominated states enforce anti-blasphemy laws.

The breakdown of the March 25 vote in the Human Rights Council was:

Yes (20): Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal and South Africa.

No (17): Argentina, Belgium, Chile, France, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America, Uruguay and Zambia.

Abstain (8): Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cameroon, Ghana, India, Japan, Madagascar and Mauritius.

The ERLC's Land also is a USCIRF commissioner. USCIRF is a nine-member, bipartisan panel that advises the administration and Congress on religious liberty conditions overseas


Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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