Support for defamation resolution drops – but a new, more sinister, attempt to introduce it looms at the UN

The resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Committee that seeks to outlaw “defamation of religion” was passed again this year, although with fewer votes in favour. The non-binding resolution, put forward by the 56-member Organisation of Islamic Conference, has been proposed and passed every year since 1999. The only religion mentioned in the resolution is Islam.

In 2007 the resolution had the support of 95 countries. By last year this dropped to 85 countries and this year it was 81. Similarly, the number of countries voting against the resolution increased from 50 last year to 55 this year and the number of abstentions rose from 42 to 43.

The latest text claims that “defamation of religions and incitement to religious hatred in general become aggravating factors that contribute to the denial of fundamental rights and freedoms of members of target groups” and expresses concern that “Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism”.

Support for the resolution peaked in 2006 when, after the cartoon controversy and the pope’s divisive address at the University of Regensburg, Germany, a total of 111 countries voted in favour in a General Assembly ballot.

The OIC is now changing its strategy and targeting a panel known as the “ad hoc committee on the elaboration of complementary international standards.” The committee’s function is to update the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and other existing international human rights conventions, filling in “gaps” and ensuring that the conventions cover “all forms of contemporary racism, including incitement to racial and religious hatred”.

Article four of the ICERD prohibits the “dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred” and “incitement to racial discrimination, as well as acts of violence or incitement to such acts.” Now the Islamists want the “ad-hoc committee” to expand the racial focus to include religion.

In a position paper earlier this year, the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom warned that expanding provisions like the ICERD to cover religion “would undermine international human rights guarantees, including the freedom of religion” and “undermine the institutions that protect universal human rights worldwide”.

The U.S. Commission also noted that the U.N. treaty body established to oversee the ICERD, the Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, said in a 2007 opinion paper that those drafting the convention never meant to include religion, and that “discrimination based exclusively on religious grounds was not intended to fall within the purview of the Convention.”

See also: Pakistan a leading player in the push for worldwide blasphemy law