Becket Fund Greets UN Freedom of Expression Resolution with Mixed Reviews

The UN Human Rights Council today in Geneva adopted a Resolution on the Right to Freedom of Expression, which The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty noted is a step in the right direction toward protecting free speech because it excludes the phrase “defamation of religion.” The Becket Fund has long criticized the “defamation of religion” concept — introduced by Organization of Islamic Conference countries in annual resolutions at the UN since 1999 — as inhibiting peaceful expression by protecting ideas favored by the state, instead of people.

However, in testimony delivered in Geneva before the 12th session of the UNHRC yesterday, The Becket Fund also expressed concern over final language in the US-Egyptian brokered resolution that included the idea of “negative stereotyping of religions,” which it said constitutes a step backward from last Spring’s Durban Review Conference Outcome Document, which instead discussed “negative stereotyping of persons” based on religion or belief.

Advocacy officer L. Bennett Graham said, “This resolution will be seen as a victory if it is the death knell for the concept of ‘defamation of religions.’ But if it continues to provide international cover for overbroad anti-blasphemy laws around the world, it will only exacerbate the problem.”

“It’s time the UN withdrew from all language that suggests religions, not people, deserve protection. We are disappointed the new freedom of expression resolution does not make this more explicit,” says International Law Director Angela C. Wu. “Hopefully the consensus vote on freedom of expression today nonetheless indicates the tide is changed. All eyes should be on next month’s General Assembly vote on ‘defamation of religions.’”

For text of The Becket Fund’s intervention outlining comments on the Freedom of Expression Resolution at the UNHRC, click HERE.

The Becket Fund has issued a legal brief on this topic and has testified before various governmental and non-governmental bodies against the “defamation of religions” concept. For a law review article on this issue written by L. Bennett Graham, please click HERE.

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