CFI Urges UN Human Rights Council to Reject “Defamation of Religions” Resolution

March 24, 2010

Before the end of the week, the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva is expected to vote on a resolution combating the so-called "defamation of religions." The resolution is backed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), an association of 57 states promoting Islamic values and interests, and was introduced in the Council by Pakistan. Upset by a supposed campaign by "the media" to "perpetuate stereotypes about certain religions" and "sacred persons" (read: Islam and Mohammed), the OIC proposes that the UN condemn "defamation" of religious ideas as a human rights violation. Late last year the UN General Assembly passed a similar, non-binding resolution for the sixth year in a row.

CFI has written to the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, and to the Human Rights Council, urging them to oppose the resolution.  The dangerous and misguided concept of "defamation of religions" would subvert longstanding principles of human rights law by empowering those who seek to silence or intimidate religious dissidents, nonbelievers, and human rights activists. It poses a direct threat to the guarantees of freedom of speech and belief found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As noted by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ms. Asma Jahangir, UN resolutions targeting "defamation of religions" can be used to legitimize anti-blasphemy laws that "punish members of religious minorities, dissenting believers and nontheists or atheists."

Last year, the Human Rights Council wisely omitted "defamation of religions" from a compromise resolution on freedom of opinion and expression. CFI urges that the Council again reject this concept in favor of other, less problematic resolutions of the values of freedom of expression and equality of citizens -- for example, by turning to existing human rights laws that prohibit discrimination against religious believers, without shielding religious beliefs from criticism, and without threatening the rights of religious dissidents and nonbelievers.