Over 100 groups protest UN debate on ‘defamation of religion’


New York : More than 100 non-governmental organisations Thursday protested attempts by some governments to push through a UN resolution to save religion from defamation.

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Those NGOs said such a move, if it leads to a binding UN resolution, could give states more reasons to adopt new domestic laws clamping down on human rights and freedom of expression.

The UN General Assembly’s human rights committee was considering a draft resolution put forward by Syria, Venezuela and Belarus asking the UN to oppose the “negative stereotyping of religions”.

The draft raises “deep concern” that racial and religious profiling have continued against certain groups of people and that Muslim minorities remain the target of attacks following the Sep 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the US.

The draft calls on the UN to oppose “manifestations of intolerance and discrimination in matters of religions or belief still evident in the world”.

It would condemn “all acts of psychological and physical violence and assaults” on people on the basis of their religion or belief.

NGOs from 20 countries joined the protest, including Freedom House, the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, the Anti-Defamation League, UN Watch and the American Jewish Congress.

They said the UN was trying to create a new legal mechanism to fight “incitement to racial and religious hatred” and was making the mechanism binding on states.

Freedom House said such a resolution is “incompatible with the fundamental freedoms of individuals to freely exercise and peacefully express their thoughts, ideas and beliefs”.

Freedom House and the NGOs that signed the petition against the UN debate warned that governments could use the UN resolution to make domestic laws against blasphemy and to punish peaceful expression against political and religious beliefs and ideas.

The NGOs said existing international legal instruments already deal with problems arising from discrimination, personal defamation and incitement in ways that do not violate freedom of expression and of religion.

“It is vitally important for governments to combat violence motivated by bias and hatred and to encourage respectful speech and civil dialogue, while at the same time affirming that freedoms of expression and freedom of thought, conscience and religion, are integral to the health of free societies and the dignity of the human person,” the NGOs said.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom in Washington called the UN debate a dangerous idea of protecting religions from defamation.

It said the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) has been pushing through the UN system “the problematic idea” of new legislation against “defamation of religion”. It warned it could provide justification for governments to restrict freedoms of religion and expression.

Hillel Heuer, executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva-based human rights group, said the draft is “the latest salvo in a pervasive campaign waged by Islamic states at the UN to declare that the primary victim of the Sep 11, 2001 terrorist attacks was Islam”.

“In fact, the victims were some 3,000 Americans and others, and those who perpetrated the mass murder acted in the name of a radical Islamist ideology,” Neuer said in a statement.