Restoring Universal Human Rights

A number of forces in the international community are converging to undermine the universality of human rights, in favor of special rights under a particular religion or special protections for particular religious beliefs. In particular, a group of Islamic states have placed the "defamation of religion" high on the UN human rights agenda, and in 2008 succeeded in limiting freedom of expression at the Human Rights Council. They are now leading a powerful movement to promulgate a system of "Islamic human rights" in place of the universal norms guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 60th anniversary of which was marked in December 2008.

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 worked with other NGOs at the UN to uphold freedom of belief and expression. Here is a timeline of our work.

  • In 2008, CFI released a report on attempts by Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to undermine universal human rights, entitled Islam and Human Rights: Defending Universality at the United Nations.
  • In 2009, CFI spearheaded a global campaign to oppose the infamous "defamation of religion" resolution under consideration at the General Assembly, sponsored by the OIC.
  • In 2010, CFI opposed another "defamation of religion" resolution considered by the General Assembly. 
  • In 2011, the defamation resolution was abandoned due to waning support, in favor of a new measure focusing on the rights of individuals to freedom of belief and speech. However, CFI remains cautious as the new directive still lacks strong wording barring states from restricting religious criticism and dissent.
  •  In 2011, CFI applauded the UN Human Rights Committee for issuing a new document strongly condemning blasphemy laws and other restrictions on freedom of belief and expression as inconsistent with existing international law.

You can read all of CFI’s statements at the UN by clicking here.