UN Human Rights Council criticized over resolution condemning religous intolerance

[Freedom House/IFEX statement]

A resolution justifying suppression of unpopular speech, adopted March 30 by the UN Human Rights Council under the guise of discouraging "defamation of religion," constitutes a perversion of the language and institutions hitherto used to protect human rights, Freedom House said today. That so many democratic states abstained or voted in favor is a cause for further alarm, the organization declared.

The resolution, sponsored by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), condemns defamation of religions in general though it mentions only Islam specifically. Presented as a measure to protect the religious sensibilities of Muslims, the resolution asserts that freedom of expression "should be exercised with responsibility and may therefore be subject to limitations as provided by law." The resolution passed the council 24-14, with nine abstentions.

"This resolution condones state punishment for public utterances that authoritarian governments will claim defame religion," said Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House. "It is utterly inappropriate for the Human Rights Council to justify censorship and the stifling of dissenting voices."

Last February, the OIC tried to inject a similar "anti-blasphemy" provision into the resolution establishing the Human Rights Council, but failed.

"That the resolution was not only reintroduced, but has now actually been passed by an absolute majority of the Council," said Windsor, "will prompt reasonable observers to wonder if the Council has fallen through the looking glass of 'Alice in Wonderland'."

"Citizens of just 14 democracies among the 47 members of the Council can be proud today that their governments had the clarity of vision to vote No," said Ms. Windsor. "Far too many democracies abstained or voted in favor of the ignominious proposition. Guatemalans, in particular, should be proud that theirs was the only one of eight Latin American countries to cast a vote for free expression. Five others abstained, and - alarmingly - Mexico joined with Cuba to vote yes for suppression of free speech."

"It is not surprising or interesting that China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Azerbaijan would vote for such a proposition," she continued. "It is a disappointment that democracies such as Argentina, Brazil, Ghana, India, Nigeria, and Uruguay would abstain. That democracies such as Mali, Mexico, the Philippines and South Africa would vote in favor of such an odious declaration is appalling. Today they have earned the shame their citizens must feel."

Freedom House is an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world.

article originally published at http://freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=70&release=332.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey