Egypt and Pakistan Push UN Resolution on “Anti-Muslim” Speech

March 16, 2009


Last year   CFI helped expose a movement by a coalition of Islamic states to restrict freedom of expression that "defames" religion.  Last week saw a new twist in this long-running saga. 

  UN Watch reports that Pakistan recently circulated a newly-drafted resolution "Combating Defamation of Religions" to UN diplomats in Geneva. Last Friday, Egypt began circulating a draft "free speech" resolution to members of the Human Rights Council.  This step is considered unusual, as Egypt did not wait, as is customary, for the UN’s Special Rapporteur to file his report on the issue first.  Although the proposed resolution is non-binding, it poses a potentially serious threat to freedom of speech.  The resolution would ban any perceived offense to Islam as a violation of religious freedom and a "serious affront to human dignity," and would pressure U.N. member states at "local, national, regional and international levels" to limit the free speech guarantees in their "legal and constitutional systems."

UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer argues that the resolution would harm both non-believers and moderate Muslims. "The first to suffer will be moderate Muslims in the countries that are behind this resolution, like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan, where state-sanctioned blasphemy laws stifle religious freedom and outlaw conversions from Islam to other faiths," said Neuer.  "Next to suffer from this U.N.-sanctioned McCarthyism will be writers and journalists in the democratic West, with the resolution targeting the media for the ‘deliberate stereotyping of religions, their adherents and sacred persons.’"

Last September CFI released a position paper titled "Islam & human rights: Defending Universality at the United Nations" (   available in PDF form here ), written by Austin Dacey and Colin Koproske, that criticized such efforts as attempts to undermine the universality of human rights.  Dacey and Koproske argue that for years, the UN’s Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) "has appropriated the traditions of Islam and Islamic law to contend that special, culturally specific rights apply to their citizens." They argue that when states use religion as a justification for either human rights resolutions or transgressions, they must not be granted immunity from criticism. As they put it: "Believers deserve protection. Beliefs do not."

The Islamic states’ most recent push to restrict individual freedoms in the name of coddling religious sensitivities comes on the heels of another chilling development I reported on in   my previous blog post : last month the Afghan Supreme Court met in secret to uphold a student journalist’s 20-year prison sentence for the "crime" of blasphemy.