UN Human Rights Council Again Adopts Resolution on Religious Intolerance Without Defamation Language

March 27, 2012

The United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) for the second year in a row has adopted a resolution aimed at combating religious intolerance that does not include language referring to the harmful "defamation of religions" concept, and that instead focuses on protecting and promoting the rights to freedom of belief and expression.

The resolution, A/HRC/19/L.7, reads in part:  

Reaffirming the commitment made by all States under the Charter of the United Nations to promote and encourage universal respect for and observance of all human rights and fundamental freedoms without distinction as to, inter alia, religion or belief.

Reaffirming the obligation of States to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion or belief and to implement measures to guarantee the equal and effective protection of the law. ...

Reaffirming further the positive role that the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the full respect for the freedom to seek, receive and impart information can play in strengthening democracy and combating religious intolerance. ...

The HRC also approved a similar resolution, A/HRC/19/L.23, that states:

9. Urges States to step up their efforts to protect and promote freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief, and to this end:

(a) To ensure that their constitutional and legislative systems provide adequate and effective guarantees of freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief to all without distinction by, inter alia, the provision of access to justice and effective remedies in cases where the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief or the right to freely practise one’s religion, including the right to change one’s religion or belief, is violated;

(b) To ensure that no one within their jurisdiction is deprived of the right to life, liberty or security of person because of religion or belief, and that no one is subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or arbitrary arrest or detention on that account, and to bring to justice all perpetrators of violations of these rights;

(c) To end violations of the human rights of women and to devote particular attention to abolishing practices and legislation that discriminates against women, including in the exercise of their right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief;

(d) To ensure that no one is discriminated against on the basis of his or her religion or belief in their access to, inter alia, education, medical care, employment, humanitarian assistance or social benefits, and to ensure that everyone has the right and the opportunity to have access, on general terms of equality, to public services in their country, without any discrimination on the basis of religion or belief;

These votes mark another in a string of recent victories at the UN for supporters of the open, secular society, and especially the Center for Inquiry. CFI holds special consultative status as a non-governmental organization (NGO) under the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and has for years fought against attempts to restrict basic human rights, such as freedom of belief and expression, guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In years past, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a group of 57 states promoting Islamic values, had successfully pushed for a UN resolution urging states to combat the so-called "defamation of religions." The non-binding resolution — which effectively provided cover for blasphemy laws that targeted religious dissidents, minorities, and nonbelievers — was passed annually by the 193-nation UN General Assembly for more than ten years.

However, in March 2011 the HRC voted unanimously for a new resolution, A/HRC/RES/16/18, that made no mention of "defamation of religions." Rather, the measure aimed to protect believers, stating that "discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief constitutes a violation of human rights." The defamation-free resolution was then adopted by the General Assembly in December 2011 for the first time in more than a decade.

Yet while CFI considers the passage of these two measures progress, we remain concerned about troubling language contained in both, such as:

Condemns ... any advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, whether it involves the use of print, audio-visual or electronic media or any other means;

CFI denounces the advocacy and incitement of violence, intolerance, and discrimination, but this line -- which is also found in Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) -- could be interpreted expansively to provide citizens with a "right" to not be insulted in their religious feelings, and a "right" to respect for their religious beliefs. These supposed rights have no grounding in international human rights law, nor do they align with the concept of an open, secular society. International law guarantees freedom of religious exercise, not freedom from insult. It guarantees nondiscrimination for individual believers, not respect for belief systems. The UN should work to protect individual religious believers from discrimination, but it should do so without leaving room for laws that shield religious belief systems from criticism, and threaten the rights of religious dissidents, religious minorities, and nonbelievers to express opinions that are unpopular with the majority.

We will continue to work at the UN to ensure that future resolutions and measures are employed to protect all individuals — believers and non-believers alike — without stifling freedom of belief and expression.

You can read more about CFI's work at the UN here


#1 Dajjal (Guest) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 at 8:19pm

Please explain the operative difference between ‘defamation of religions’ and ‘negative stereotyping of persons based on religion’.

Are you familiar with A/HRC/19/L.23, which is flying under the radar?  It condemns equating Islam with terrorism. A similar resolution passed through the General Assembly in December.  What is the operative difference between ‘defamation of religions’ and ‘equating Islam to terrorism’?

A/HRC/19/L.7 calls on states to criminalize ‘incitement to imminent violence’. What is the operative definition of that expression?

Ban Ki-moon said of Fitna that it was ‘incitement’ and ‘hate speech’; not protected by freedom of expression.  Is there any other operative definition of the term? 

Searching for A/HRC/19/L.7 at bing.com will return links to two of my blog posts which go into detail. I will welcome your comments.

#2 Ophelia Benson on Thursday March 29, 2012 at 4:51pm

India and Bangladesh use accusations of “hurting the sentiments of believers” to shut down discussions, book launches, authors, cartoons, documentary films. The whole idea is a thought-squelcher.

Good on CFI for resisting this.

Now to find Dajjal’s posts.

#3 Michael De Dora on Thursday April 05, 2012 at 8:45pm

This is precisely the kind of thing that can and will happen when the UN approves problematic language of the sort I criticized above:


Tunisians jailed for Facebook cartoons of Prophet

Two young Tunisians have been sentenced to seven years in prison for posting cartoons of the prophet Mohammad on Facebook, in a case that has fueled allegations the country’s new Islamist leaders are gagging free speech.

The two men had posted depictions of the prophet naked on the social networking site, the justice ministry said, inflaming sensitivities in a country where Muslim values have taken on a bigger role since a revolution last year.

“They were sentenced ... to seven years in prison for violation of morality, and disturbing public order,” said Chokri Nefti, a justice ministry spokesman.

#4 Michael De Dora on Thursday April 05, 2012 at 8:53pm


I think the operative difference between defamation ‘defamation of religions’ and ‘negative stereotyping of persons based on religion’ is that defamation is essentially criticism of beliefs and ideas (which is fine and should be legal), whereas negative stereotyping is attaching specific negative behaviors to people of an entire religion due to the fact that some people of that religion engage in such behaviors (which is troublesome).

Also: ‘incitement to imminent violence’ refers to an act that puts people in immediate danger of injury or death. Think of yelling “fire” in a packed movie theater when, in fact, you know there is no fire.

As you can probably tell from my post, I have serious concerns with the language in resolutions coming out of the UN. That said, CFI will continue working at the UN in hopes of improving future resolutions.

#5 Dajjal (Guest) on Saturday April 14, 2012 at 7:30pm

@Michael De Dora:

Islam has standards which all Muslims are expected to meet: Allah’s imperatives & Moe’s sunnah.  NQ 2:85 makes Islam inseverable; a package deal, take it or leave it. 

If Muslims are believers (NQ 8:1-6, 9:111, 49:15) then they are participants in or supporters of jihad & terrorism.  Otherwise, they are hypocrites who are to be defeated and gathered into Hell along with us. 

It is therefore impossible to criticize Islam without condemning the Ummah.  If we say that “Allah is a blood thirsty demon”, which he is (NQ 8:67) we are, by logical extension condemning all who believe in him as described by the Qur’an. 

  If, as in the case of the Motoons, we say that “Moe was a terrorist”, which he was, then, by logical extension, we are condemning all who emulate him as terrorists. 

  The purpose of the resolutions is to apply to us, through national and international legislation, the standards imposed upon Muslims in Reliance of the Traveller O8.7 and upon dhimmis in O11.10.  The July-August ‘11 issue of the OIC Journal contains some interesting remarks in that regard, to the effect that they will not tolerate any negativity towards Moe.

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