UN Drops Controversial "Defamation of Religion" Resolution

IRLA commends action of Human Rights Council 

The United Nations Human Rights Council has moved decisively away from a resolution that sought to protect religion from defamation, and which for the past 12 years has drawn widespread criticism from human rights advocates around the world. Since 1999, the controversial Defamation of Religions resolution had been championed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which argued the resolution was needed to combat “incitement to religious hatred in general and against Islam and Muslims in particular."

The 47-member Human Rights Council rejected this argument March 23 and voted instead for a resolution that seeks to protect individuals from religious persecution and violence, rather than protect religion from criticism.

The Defamation of Religions resolution had been passed every year since 1999. If it had become a binding legal precedent it would have restricted freedom of speech and involved governments in the affairs of religion. It was widely seen as a cover for the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, which led to the violent killings of prominent politicians including Christian cabinet member Shahbaz Bhatti.

The Human Rights Council passed the new resolution by consensus. The new wording removes many of the controversial statements and instead focuses on the “intolerance, discrimination and violence” aimed at individuals as opposed to religions.  It condemns religious hatred that leads to incitement of violence against religious followers and appeals to government intervention.

Support for the former Defamation of Religion resolution reached a peak in 2006, receiving 111 votes in the UN General Assembly. But by 2010 support plummeted to a mere 76 votes—well less than half of the General Assembly.  The number of “No” votes combined with the number of abstentions has exceeded the “yes” votes for the past three years.  In 2010, 64 countries voted no and 42 abstained. 

“Though we are pleased with the removal of the Defamation of Religions resolution,” notes Barry Bussey, the IRLA representative at the UN, “we cannot but be moved at the sacrifice of individuals like Shahbaz Bhatti.”