U.S. activists lobby against U.N. defamation resolution

November 15, 2010

WASHINGTON (RNS) Religious freedom advocates are urging members of the
United Nations to vote against the latest proposal from Islamic
countries to combat "defamation of religions."

For the last decade, the Organization of Islamic Conference has
successfully sponsored similar resolutions as a way to address religious
persecution. But U.S. religious liberty activists increasingly say the
resolutions actually do more harm than good.

"The OIC-sponsored U.N. resolutions on this issue instead provide
justification for governments to restrict religious freedom and free
expression," the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said
in a policy statement.

The draft OIC resolution calls defamation of religions "a serious
affront to human dignity, leading to the illicit restriction of the
freedom of religion of their adherents and incitement to religious
hatred and violence."

The resolutions express the sentiments of the U.N. General Assembly
but do not require specific action by member states. A committee vote is
expected this month, followed by consideration and action by the General
Assembly in December.

USCIRF, an independent and bipartisan commission, said support for
the proposal is on the decline; last March, it squeaked past the U.N.
Human Rights Council by just four votes.

"I am pleased to say that our efforts are paying off and more
countries are voting against the 'defamations of religions' resolution
each year," said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., in a recent statement. He
sent a letter signed by dozens of members of Congress to more than 150
heads of state urging them to oppose the latest resolution.

Bill Donohue, president of the New York-based Catholic League, said
the intent of the resolution is cause for concern.

"It is being promoted by member states that are known for
disrespecting human rights including, most spectacularly, religious
liberties," he said in a statement.

In a recent report on blasphemy laws, the human rights watchdog
group Freedom House concluded that rules in seven countries -- including
the Muslim countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan -- led to
violations rather than protections of human rights, especially of
religious minorities.

"Because no one can agree on what constitutes blasphemy, laws that
attempt to ban it are themselves vague, highly prone to arbitrary
enforcement and are used to stifle everything from political opposition
to religious inquiry," wrote Paula Schriefer, Freedom House's advocacy
director, in a New York Times op-ed.

The OIC's blasphemy proposal is part of a wider initiative of its 57
member states to counter what they consider "systemic defamation of
Islam." An OIC news release said OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin
Ihsanoglu "underscored the dangerous consequences of the growing trend
of Islamophobia on global peace and security."

The U.S. State Department has previously criticized the OIC's U.N.

"While the United States deplores actions that exhibit disrespect
for particular religious traditions, including Islam, we do not agree
with the `defamation of religions' concept because it is inconsistent
with the freedoms of religion and expression," it said in its 2009
report on international religious freedom.