Today the United Nations adopted a resolution that empowers governments to punish its own citizens for expressing their religious beliefs and speaking out against a particular faith. In a vote of 80 in favor, 61 against, and 42 countries abstaining, the concept of ‘defamation of religion’ received yet another nod of approval from the U.N. General Assembly. This vote attempts to solidify into international law a concept that restricts basic human rights.
While the resolution that passed today is non-binding, its menace is exacerbated by concurrent negotiations taking place at the Ad Hoc Committee in Geneva where Pakistan, on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and Nigeria, on behalf of the Africa Group, have proposed a binding treaty amendment to the ICERD, an existing international treaty on racism. Specifically, the amendment would outlaw ‘defamation of religion,’ providing legitimacy for domestic blasphemy laws used to muzzle religious minorities.
“When people are dying around the world for their beliefs, it is unfortunate that the largest international body in the world signs off on a concept that legitimates the suppression of conscience,” said Bennett Graham, United Nations representative for the Becket Fund. “We must remember that human rights do not belong to the theory, the poem, or the sermon; rather, human rights belong to the teacher, the poet, and the preacher.”
In a letter sent to UN ambassadors, International Law Director Angela C. Wu, stated, “the concept of penalizing ‘defamation of religions’ violates the very foundations of the human rights tradition by protecting ideas rather than the persons who hold the ideas.”
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and a broad-based coalition of over 100 NGOs representing several religious and non-religious groups from more than 20 countries have issued a Common Statement protesting the resolution and making it clear that United Nations resolutions on the ‘defamation of religion’ are incompatible with fundamental freedoms of individuals to freely exercise and peacefully express their religious beliefs.
The Becket Fund has been a leading advocate against the resolutions and “defamation of religions” concept, and has delivered several interventions before the Human Rights Council and issued a brief on this topic as well as having testified before various governmental bodies, non-governmental bodies and the press. Read more here.