For Immediate Release: November 24, 2010
New York – Yesterday, the Third Committee of the General Assembly voted on the controversial “defamation of religions” resolution, introduced by Morocco on behalf of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The draft resolution was adopted by a recorded vote of 76 in favor to 64 against, with 42 abstentions. This indicates a decrease in the margin of passage from 2009, when 80 countries voted in favor to 61 against (42 abstained or were absent).
The vote shows that states increasingly recognize that restricting speech is not the way to reduce violence, discrimination and hatred. In addition to infringing on speech and religious freedom, defamation laws promote state control of ideas and stifle debate and dissent. UN member states should instead promote ways to combat hatred and violence without restricting speech,” comments Tad Stahnke, Director of Policy and Programs at Human Rights First.
The resolution promotes binding obligations to prohibit so-called “defamation of religions” – in essence a global blasphemy code. Efforts to advance the defamation concept threaten universal rights to freedom of expression and religion. They also provide political cover for domestic blasphemy and defamation laws that are abused by governments and others to suppress peaceful political or religious views, thus stifling debate and dissent. These abuses exist in many countries whose governments are the strongest proponents of the defamation concept.
In an open letter sent to Delegations of the U.N. Member States calling on them to vote against the resolution, Human Rights First noted, “Those who support ‘defamation of religions’ laws argue that such restrictions are necessary in order to combat incitement to discrimination, hostility, and violence, as well as to protect freedom of religion. In practice, these laws create particular problems for those holding religious views that differ from the majority, as well as nonbelievers and adherents to minority faiths.” To underscore this point, Human Rights First has issued a new report exposing the harsh realities of the “defamation of religions” concept. Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Consequences of Criminalizing “Defamation of Religions,” details more than 50 recent cases from 15 countries that provide a window into how national blasphemy laws are abused by governments. The real-life stories in this report document how blasphemy statutes are frequently used to target individuals for the peaceful expression of political or religious views. Human Rights First notes that time and again, accusations of blasphemy have resulted in arrests and arbitrary detentions and have sparked assaults, murders and mob attacks.
The U.N. General Assembly will vote again in December. Human Rights First calls on countries to vote against this resolution.