Resolutions on Defamation of Religions Do Not Belong at United Nations, Organizations Say

Washington, DC

Freedom House today joined over 100 nongovernmental organizations in a statement declaring that binding resolutions combating “defamation of religions” have no place at the United Nations and are incompatible with the fundamental freedoms outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In a UN meeting in Geneva that ended October 30, Pakistan and Nigeria, on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Africa Group, respectively, proposed a new legal mechanism to  combat “incitement to racial and religious hatred.” At the General Assembly in New York, Syria, on behalf of the OIC, together with Belarus and Venezuela, proposed a similar resolution.

That resolution will be up for a vote within the next two weeks.

“The resolution at the General Assembly is part of a concerted, ongoing effort to establish a formal legal mechanism whose ultimate result would be increased restrictions on freedom of speech,” said Paula Schriefer, Freedom House’s director of advocacy. “While we are wholly committed to fighting racism and intolerance, we are convinced that new legal standards would be detrimental to freedom of expression and religion worldwide and that existing norms are sufficient to combat the problem.”

The statement is below.

A Common Statement from Civil Society on the Concept of the “Defamation of Religions”

United Nations resolutions on the `defamation of religions' are incompatible with the fundamental freedoms of individuals to freely exercise and peacefully express their thoughts, ideas, and beliefs.

Unlike traditional defamation laws, which punish false statements of fact that harm individual persons, measures prohibiting the `defamation of religions' punish the peaceful criticism of ideas. Additionally, the concept of `defamation of religions' is fundamentally inconsistent with the universal principles outlined in the United Nations' founding documents, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms the protection of the rights of individuals, rather than ideas.

Such resolutions provide international support for domestic laws against blasphemy and “injury to religious feelings”, which are often abused by governments to punish the peaceful expression of disfavored political or religious beliefs and ideas. Moreover, existing international legal instruments already address discrimination, personal defamation, and incitement in ways that are more carefully focused to confront those specific problems without unduly threatening the rights of freedom of expression and the freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

It is vitally important for governments to combat violence motivated by bias and hatred and to encourage respectful speech and civil dialogue, while at the same time affirming that freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience and religion are integral to the health of free societies and the dignity of the human person.

Finally, legal efforts alone cannot foster an environment of respect and religious freedom. Education and public diplomacy are vital tools in the protection of a peaceful and robust exchange of ideas and beliefs.

Signed: 
 
International Religious Liberty Association
American Islamic Congress
Indonesia Legal Resource Center, Indonesia
Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
United Sikhs
Institute for Global Engagement
Humanist Academy, Scotland
Freedom House
 BCV Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths, Australia
Vigilance, Inc.
Simon Wiesenthal Center
Sidmennt, the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association
International Christian Concern
Unione degli Atei e degli Agnositici Razionalisti (UAAR), Italy
International Quranic Center
Higgins Counterterrorism Research Center
U.S. Copts Association
European Humanist Federation
International Center for Religion & Diplomacy
LibForAll Foundation
Humanistisch-Vrijzinnige Vereniging, Belgium
Center for Political Studies, Denmark
American Ethical Union
Dutch Platform on International Freedom of Religion or Belief
The Humanist Society of Scotland, Scotland
Vienna Akademikerbund, Austria
Polish Humanist Association, Poland
Stichting Magenta/Magenta Foundation
TIFA Foundation, Indonesia
International Civil Liberties Alliance
Rapid Response Group, Uzbekistan
Center for Security Policy
Media Rights Agenda, Nigeria
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
Rationalist Association, UK
International Humanist and Ethical Union
ACT! for America
Women’s Rights Organization Against Discrimination (AKDER), Turkey
 Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia
Center for Inquiry
Center for Islamic Pluralism, Washington D.C./London/Koln
The Association of Christian Schools
Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute
Bürgerbewegung Pax Europa, Germany and Austria
American Center for Law and Justice
Anti-Defamation League
The Center for Economic and Social Justice
Christian Copts of California
Dachverband Freier Weltanschauungsgemeinschaften Deutschlands, Germany
Committee for the Freedom of Prisoners of Conscience in Uzbekistan
Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights
GeoStrategic Analysis of Potomac, Maryland
Prometheus Society, Slovakia
American Humanist Association
The Phyllis Chesler Organization
Baptist World Alliance
Open Doors International
Humanist Association of Ireland
Bahá'í International Community
Forum for Civic Responsibility
Vapaa-ajattelijain Liitto ry/The Union of Freethinkers of Finland, Finland
The Rutherford Institute
Foundation for the Defense of Democracies
American Textbook Council
David Horowitz Freedom Center
The Legal Project of the Middle East Forum
UN Watch
The Investigative Project on Terrorism
 Church of Scientology of Amsterdam
Jubilee Campaign
Bund Freireligiöser Gemeinden Deutschlands, Germany
Religious Freedom Coalition
Os Guinness, Author
International Al Hewar Almasry Center for Copts Human Rights in Egypt
Islam and Civil Society Project of the Witherspoon Institute
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, South Africa
SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, Russia
Mission Europa, Austria
The Westminster Institute
CNP Action, Inc.
Endowment for Middle East Truth
American Jewish Congress
B’nai B’rith International
Barnabus Aid
Democracy Coalition Project
National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the U.S.
Humanistischer Verband Deutschlands, Germany
Dalit Freedom Network
Open Doors USA
International Society for Krishna Consciousness
Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Advocates International
National Secular Society, UK
Traditional Values Coalition
Human Rights Without Frontiers
Concerned Women for America
UVV Unie Vrijzinnige Verenigingen, Belgium
Oxford Center for Religion and Public Life
 American Congress for Truth
Centre d’Action Laïque, Belgium
ChinaAid
American Islamic Forum for Democracy
British Humanist Association

Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties worldwide since 1972.

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