International: U.N. urged to reject bar on defamation of religion
The resolution, its critics say, would also restrict free speech and even academic study in open societies in the West and elsewhere.
Islamic countries argue that criticizing or lampooning religions is a violation of the rights of believers and leads to discrimination and violence against them. Cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, first published in a Danish newspaper, sparked riots in the Muslim world in 2006.
The OIC resolution says "Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism" and calls on U.N. member states "to combat defamation of religions and incitement to religious hatred in general .... "
Similar unbinding resolutions have been passed since 1999 in the U.N. General Assembly and by the 47-nation Human Rights Council, where Islamic countries and others who support them on the issue have a built-in majority.
But activist groups say the latest one -- tabled by Pakistan on behalf of the OIC -- is part of a growing offensive by the Islamic countries to impose their concepts of rights and religion on the rest of the world.
They argue that the concept of "defamation of religions" is so vague that it can be used against any challenge to a religious tenet and bolster laws against blasphemy in authoritarian regimes where one religion holds sway.
Condemnation of "defamation" was originally included in a draft of a declaration to be issued by a U.N. anti-racism conference, dubbed Durban II, in Geneva next month, but was withdrawn after Western countries said it was unacceptable.
However, critics say they fear OIC states and their allies are working to insert it in an existing U.N. convention against racial discrimination. They say "defamation of religion" has no validity in international law because only individuals, and not concepts or beliefs, can be defamed.
Among the groups signing Wednesday's statement were the International Humanist and Ethical Union, the Geneva-based U.N. Watch, the Muslim Council of Canada, the American Islamic Congress, the World Jewish Congress, the U.S. Freedom House, and the Paris-based International Press Institute. It was also backed by organizations representing believers, agnostics and atheists in India, Australia, Europe, Africa and Latin America.
25 March 2009
By Robert Evans (Editing by Mark Trevelyan)
A General Assembly
HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
Agenda item 9
RACISM, RACIAL DISCRIMINATION, XENOPHOBIA AND RELATED FORMS OF INTOLERANCE, FOLLOW-UP AND IMPLEMENTATION OF THE DURBAN DECLARATION AND PROGRAMME OF ACTION
10/… Combating Defamation of Religions
Pakistan (on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference): draft resolution
The Human Rights Council,
Reaffirmingthe pledge 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 race, sex, language or religion,
Reaffirming also that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated,
Recalling the 2005 World Summit Outcome adopted by the General Assembly in its resolution 60/1 of 24 October 2005, in which the Assembly emphasized the responsibilities of all States, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations, to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind and acknowledged the importance of respect and understanding for religious and cultural diversity throughout the world, Recognizing the valuable contribution of all religions to modern civilization and the contribution that dialogue among civilizations can make towards improved awareness and understanding of the common values shared by all humankind,
Welcoming the resolve expressed in the United Nations Millennium Declaration adopted by the General Assembly on 8 September 20006 to take measures to eliminate the increasing acts of racism and xenophobia in many societies and to promote greater harmony and tolerance in all societies, and looking forward to its effective implementation at all levels,
Underlining in this regard the importance of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, welcoming the progress achieved in implementing them, and emphasizing that they constitute a solid foundation for the elimination of all scourges and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance,
Welcoming all international and regional initiatives to promote cross-cultural and interfaith harmony, including the Alliance of Civilizations and the International Dialogue on Interfaith Cooperation and their valuable efforts towards the promotion of a culture of peace and dialogue at all levels,
Welcoming further the reports of the Special Rapporteur submitted to the Council at its fourth, sixth and ninth sessions that highlight the serious nature of the defamation of all religions and the need to complement legal strategies;
Noting with deep concern the instances of intolerance, discrimination and acts of violence against followers of certain faiths, occurring in many parts of the world, in addition to the negative projection of certain religions in the media and the introduction and enforcement of laws and administrative measures that specifically discriminate against and target persons with certain ethnic and religious backgrounds, particularly Muslim minorities following the events of 11 September 2001, and that threaten to impede their full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms,
Stressing that defamation of religions is a serious affront to human dignity leading to restriction on the freedom of religion of their adherents and incitement to religious hatred and violence,
Notingwith concern that defamation of religions, and incitement to religious hatred in general, could lead to social disharmony and violations of human rights, and alarmed at the inaction of some States to combat this burgeoning trend and the resulting discriminatory practices against adherents of certain religions and in this context stressing the need to effectively combat defamation of all religions and incitement to religious hatred in general and against Islam and Muslims in particular,
Convinced that respect for cultural, ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity, as well as dialogue among and within civilizations, is essential for global peace and understanding while manifestations of cultural and ethnic prejudice, religious intolerance and xenophobia generate hatred and violence among peoples and nations, Underlining the important role of education in the promotion of tolerance, which involves acceptance by the public of and its respect for diversity,
Noting various regional and national initiatives to combat religious and racial intolerance against specific groups and communities and emphasizing, in this context, the need to adopt a comprehensive and non-discriminatory approach to ensure respect for all races and religions,
Recalling its resolution 7/19 of 27 March 2008 and UNGA resolution 63/154 of 18 December 2008,
1. Takes note of the report of the High Commissioner on the compilation of existing legislation and jurisprudence concerning defamation of and contempt of religions and the report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance presented during the 9th session of the Human Rights Council;
2. Expresses deep concern at the negative stereotyping and defamation of religions and manifestations of intolerance and discrimination in matters of religion or belief, still evident in the world, which have led to intolerance against the followers of these religions;
3. Strongly deplores all acts of psychological and physical violence and assaults, and incitement thereto, against persons on the basis of their religion or belief, and such acts directed against their businesses, properties, cultural centres and places of worship, as well as targeting of holy sites, religious symbols and venerated personalities of all religions;
4. Expresses deep concern at the continued serious instances of deliberate stereotyping of religions, their adherents and sacred persons in the media, as well as programmes and agendas pursued by extremist organizations and groups aimed at creating and perpetuating stereotypes about certain religions, in particular when condoned by Governments;
5. Notes with deep concern the intensification of the overall campaign of defamation of religions, and incitement to religious hatred in general, including the ethnic and religious profiling of Muslim minorities in the aftermath of the tragic events of 11 September 2001;
6. Recognizes that, in the context of the fight against terrorism, defamation of religions, and incitement to religious hatred in general have, become aggravating factors that contribute to the denial of fundamental rights and freedoms of members of target groups, as well as to their economic and social exclusion;
7. Expresses deep concern in this respect that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism and in this regard regrets the laws or administrative measures specifically designed to control and monitor Muslim minorities, thereby stigmatizing them and legitimizing the discrimination they experience;
8. Deplores the use of the print, audio-visual and electronic media, including the Internet, and any other means to incite acts of violence, xenophobia or related intolerance and discrimination towards any religion, as well as targeting of religious symbols and venerated persons;
9. Emphasizes that, as stipulated in international human rights law including articles 19 and 29 of UDHR and 19 and 20 of ICCPR, everyone has the right to hold opinions without interference, and has the right to freedom of expression, the exercise of which carries with it special duties and responsibilities and may therefore be subject to limitations as are provided for by law and are necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others, protection of national security or of public order, public health or morals, and general welfare;
10. Reaffirms that General Comment 15 of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in which the Committee stipulated that the prohibition of the dissemination of all ideas based upon racial superiority or hatred is compatible with freedom of opinion and expression, is equally applicable to the question of incitement to religious hatred;
11. Strongly condemns all manifestations and acts of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance against national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and migrants and the stereotypes often applied to them, including on the basis of religion or belief, and urges all States to apply and, where required, reinforce existing laws when such xenophobic or intolerant acts, manifestations or expressions occur, in order to deny impunity for those who commit such acts;
12. Urges all States to provide, within their respective legal and constitutional systems, adequate protection 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;
13. Underscores the need to combat defamation of religions, and incitement to religious hatred in general, by strategizing and harmonizing actions at the local, national, regional and international levels through education and awareness building;
14. Calls upon all States to exert the utmost efforts, in accordance with their national legislation and in conformity with international human rights and humanitarian law, to ensure that religious places, sites, shrines and symbols are fully respected and protected, and to take additional measures in cases where they are vulnerable to desecration or destruction;
15. Calls for strengthening international efforts to foster a global dialogue for the promotion of a culture of tolerance and peace at all levels, based on respect for human rights and diversity of religions and beliefs, and urges States, non-governmental organizations, religious leaders as well as the print and electronic media to support and foster such a dialogue;
16. Appreciates the High Commissioner for Human Rights for holding a seminar on freedom of expression and advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence in October 2008, and requests her to continue to build on this initiative, with a view to concretely contributing to the prevention and elimination of all such forms of incitement and the consequences of negative stereotyping of religions or beliefs, and their adherents, on the human rights of those individuals and their communities;
17. Requests the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance to report on all manifestations of defamation of religions, and in particular on the serious implications of Islamophobia, on the enjoyment of all rights by their followers, to the Council during its 12th Session;
18. Requests the High Commissioner for Human Rights to report to the Council at its 12th Session on the implementation of the present resolution, including on the possible correlation between defamation of religions and the upsurge in incitement, intolerance and hatred in many parts of the world.
11 March 2009
Source: Eye on the UN
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