The Irish Times carried a Reuters report today noting concerns that the UN Human Rights Council passing of a resolution on Thursday calling for laws against defamation of religion – by classing defamation of religion as a breach of human rights and as a form of “contemporary racism” – “could be used to justify curbs on free speech in Muslim countries”. The resolution, introduced by Pakistan, links “defamation of religions”, in particular Islam, with “incitement to religious hatred” and “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 against any religion, as well as the targeting of religious symbols and venerated persons”. The University of Pittsburgh legal blog Jurist has some background, and Reporters Without Borders have issued this statement
“The Council had just dealt a severe blow to the freedom of expression it is supposed to defend, the press freedom organisation said. By approving a resolution that seeks to suppress criticism of Islam, this UN body has once again shown that it is incapable of defending human rights effectively.
“This resolution is outrageous. On the grounds of combating discrimination, it assails the news media for the targeting of religious symbols and sacred persons, especially those of Islam. In other words, the UN is asking the media to stop criticising Islam in the name of combating incitement to religious hatred. This is unacceptable to all those who feel strongly about the defence of free expression.”
As the Reuters report at the Irish Times put it
Western governments and a broad alliance of activist groups have voiced dismay about the religious defamation text, which adds to recent efforts to broaden the concept of human rights to protect communities of believers rather than individuals.
Action on Draft Resolution on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Forms of Intolerance
In a resolution (A/HRC/10/L.2/Rev.1) on combating defamation of religions
, adopted by a vote of 23 in favour, 11 against, and 13 abstentions, the Council 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; 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; expresses deep concern in this respect that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism and regrets the laws or administrative measures specifically designed to control and monitor Muslim minorities; 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 against any religion, as well as the targeting of religious symbols and venerated persons; emphasizes that, as stipulated in international human rights law, the exercise of freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities and may therefore be subject to limitations only as 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; urges all States to apply and, where required, reinforce existing laws when xenophobic or intolerant acts, manifestations or expressions occur, in order to deny impunity for those who commit such acts; 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; calls for strengthened international efforts to foster a global dialogue for the promotion of a culture of tolerance and peace at all levels; requests the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism 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 at its twelfth session; and requests the High Commissioner to report to the Council at its twelfth 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.
The result of the vote were as follows:
In favour (23): Angola, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, and South Africa.
Against (11): Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Ukraine, and United Kingdom.
Abstentions (13):Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Ghana, India, Japan, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mexico, Republic of Korea, Uruguay, and Zambia.
The UN Human Rights Council press release also noted the opposition to the resolution
KONRAD SCHARINGER ( Germany ), speaking on behalf of the European Union , said that the European Union firmly believed in the freedom of expression and freedom of belief. The European Union also thought that dialogue could help to overcome difference. However, it regretted that such dialogue did not take place in the Council. The European Union thought it was problematic to reconcile defamation with discrimination. Discrimination clearly fell within the scope of human rights. It had to be stressed that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights firmly forbade any form of incitement of religious hatred. A broader and firmly rights based text would be better in that context. Defamation of religion should not be addressed within a human rights approach. Specific religions should not [be] protected. The European Union condemned instances of Islamophobia, Chrisitianophobia and other religious hatred and invited others to show their commitment to combat religious intolerance. The European Union stressed that religious hatred was worldwide and not limited to certain religions and beliefs. The European Union would vote against the text.
TERRY CORMIER ( Canada ), speaking in an explanation of the vote before the vote, expressed appreciation to Pakistan for the open consultation held, and in which Canada had engaged in and voiced concerns in a constructive manner, and in order to help bridge understanding in the Council. It was a matter of great concern all over the world. The harmful stereotyping of persons based on religion or belief should be denounced. Canada condemned all forms of religious hatred and called on all States to adhere to tolerance of all religions, cultures and ethnicities around the world. Canada said it was an individual who had rights and hence defamation of religion as an issue discussed under the Human Rights Council was beyond its scope and would jeopardize freedom of expression. In addition, the current resolution continued to focus on one religion above all others. For those reasons, among others, Canada would vote against the draft resolution.
CARLOS PORTALES ( Chile ), speaking in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said that the only subjects to international law were human beings. The norms were geared to human beings, including the freedom of religion and the freedom to believe in a religion or not. The different religions were not subject to international law. There was a fundamental difference between criticism and attacks on individuals due to their adherence to a particular religion or beliefs. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights set forth that people would enjoy equal protection and prohibited incitement to religious hatred. Chile as a country with a variety of religious beliefs, would vote against the draft resolution.
Adds It’s another uncomfortable but timely message about “rights”.
And that’s without considering “rights supplementary to those in the ECHR, to reflect the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland.” Natch.