UN to Take Up Measure Suppressing Religious Criticism; Votes Against Sexual Orientation Protection

November 19, 2010

As in previous years, the United Nations General Assembly is preparing to vote yet again 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 some five-dozen states promoting Islamic values and interests.  This year’s resolution was introduced before the UN General Assembly by the delegation from Morocco. Upset by a supposed campaign by “the media” to “perpetuat[e] stereotypes about certain religions” and “venerated personalities” (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.

As an NGO with Special Consultative Status to the UN, CFI will again urge UN member states to oppose the resolution. As I noted in CFI’s official statement against last year’s 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.  The resolution poses a direct threat to the guarantees of freedom of speech and belief found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Former Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ms. Asma Jahangir, has stated that 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.”

Disturbingly, this year’s push to protect religious beliefs from “defamation” follows fast on the heels of the UN General Assembly’s contentious, 79-to-70 vote to remove sexual orientation from a resolution calling on countries to protect the life of all people and to investigate extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions that are motivated by prejudice and discrimination.  For the past 11 years, the UN has passed resolutions including sexual orientation in its list of categories of persons who have fallen victim to hate-motivated murder.  This year, the General Assembly reversed course under pressure from homophobic theocracies, including Saudi Arabia and Iran; the 53-member African Group, represented by the UN delegation from Benin (and possibly influenced by repugnant American evangelicals, who have supported African legislation imposing the death penalty for homosexuals); and of course, the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Readers might pause to contemplate this horrific irony.  The Organization of the Islamic Conference supports protecting religious ideas and symbols from desecration, yet balks at protecting human beings from hate-motivated violence and death. 

I find it difficult to imagine a more astonishing perversion of human rights principles.