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19 January 2012

Defamation of religion

Defamation of religion

A resolution combating religious intolerance and eliminating all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief was adopted unanimously by the United Nations in December. This resolution, however, differed significantly to previous resolutions passed annually because for the first time in a decade it did not include the concept of 'defamation of religions'.

Since 1998, the Organisation for Islamic Conference (OIC) has each year won majority approval in the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly for resolutions on combating 'defamation of religions'. These resolutions have always been highly controversial and critics argue that they provide cover for abusive national blasphemy laws, restrict proselytism and religious speech and go against international law.

Alliance member Open Doors underlined the need to combat defamation of religion resolutions of which religious minorities can easily become victims. For example Asia Bibi from Pakistan who has been imprisoned on death row since 2009 for blasphemy and Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani from Iran who is currently imprisoned under apostasy charges and for evangelising to Muslims.

The 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly adopted two resolutions on the right to Freedom of Religion or Belief. The first was a resolution for the elimination of all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief. The second, a resolution combating intolerance, negative stereotyping, stigmatisation, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons, based on religion or belief. This second one is seen as replacing previous resolutions on Combating Defamation of Religions. Human rights group Human Rights First said: "The UN's new approach reflects what is needed to combat the intolerance we continue to see around the world."

Open Doors' coordinated a petition which gathered more than 428,000 signatures from people saying yes to Freedom of Religion and no to the concept of defamation of religions which they took to the UN in 2010. Stephen Rand, head of advocacy at Open Doors, said that in 2012 "we will be working hard to build on this and see even more positive steps towards genuine freedom of religion".

The new resolution calls on states to promote the ability of members of all religions to manifest their religion and contribute openly to foster religious freedom. Tad Stahnke from Human Rights First said: "It is crucial for leaders to protect freedom of expression, condemn and prosecute violence, speak out against hatred and affirm equal rights for all."