U.N. Religious ‘Defamation’ Resolution is Not Dead, Says Islamic Bloc

Patrick Goodenough | March 30, 2011 | 4:36am EDT
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The Human Rights Council meets in Geneva on Monday, March 21, 2011. (UN Photo by Jean-Marc Ferre)

(CNSNews.com) – A U.N. Human Rights Council decision last week to pass a resolution on combating intolerance based on religion dropped Muslim states’ cherished concept of “defamation” of religion, drawing widespread praise. But the Islamic bloc has made it clear that its controversial defamation resolutions passed in earlier years remain valid.

The text approved unanimously by the Geneva-based HRC last Thursday – no vote was taken – did not replace the religious defamation resolutions, Islamic ambassadors stressed during the council session.

The Saudi-based Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the bloc of 56 Muslim-majority states that has championed religious defamation resolutions at the U.N. every year since 1999, sent the same message to Saudi media this week.

The Saudi daily Arab News, citing an unnamed “source in the OIC General Secretariat” reported that the resolution approved on Thursday “is not a substitute for an earlier resolution adopted by the UN on combating defamation of religions” and that “the decision regarding defamation of religions has not been abandoned.”

Attempts by CNSNews.com since Monday to get clarity from OIC headquarters, the OIC mission to the HRC in Geneva, and the mission of Pakistan – which heads the OIC group in Geneva – have been unsuccessful.

Zamir Akram, Pakistan’s ambassador and representative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference at the U.N. Human Rights Council. (Photo: Pakistan Mission, Geneva)

But archived video footage of the March 24 HRC session shows that the representatives of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia both emphasized that the defamation resolutions stand.

“I want to state categorically that this resolution does not replace the OIC’s earlier resolutions on combating defamation of religions which were adopted by the Human Rights Council and continue to remain valid,” said Pakistani ambassador Zamir Akram.

His Saudi counterpart, Ahmed Suleiman Ibrahim Alaquil, concurred.

“This text is not replacing the other, existing text which also criminalizes attack on religion. This text still remains valid,” he said. “The events that we’ve seen in many states and in particular the fact that we’ve seen copies of the Qur’an burnt in the United States just a few months ago calls on us all to redouble our efforts against this phenomenon.”

In contrast to the earlier defamation resolutions, which were strongly opposed by Western and other democracies, the new resolution won strong support from democracies.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described its passage as a “landmark achievement” and religious freedom and free speech campaigners widely praised the move.

Together with other recent actions at the HRC, it is being cited – both by U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice and by engagement advocates – to support the view that the Obama administration’s decision to join the council was correct.

‘Defending our religion, holy book and prophet’

The main differences between the earlier resolution and the new one is that the latter drops all uses of the divisive term “defamation” and also all direct references to Islam.

The most important practical difference was that, while the defamation texts sought to criminalize criticism of Islam, the new resolution called on countries to criminalize actions in one case only – “incitement to imminent violence based on religion or belief.”

In his comments when introducing the text, Akram of Pakistan defended the need for the OIC to campaign on the religious defamation issue over the years.

“Objective academic studies reveal that following the end of the Cold War the pernicious doctrine of a clash of civilizations signaled the start of a narrative that required the construction of a new enemy to replace the global threat of communism with the so-called menace of Islam,” he told the council.

He listed several examples of problems he said were faced by Muslims, among others alluding to the hearings on radical Islam being held by the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.).

“One prominent politician has recently organized hearings that seek to put on trial the entire Muslim community and are obviously designed to stoke fears against Muslims in that country,” said Akram.

The Pakistan envoy said the OIC’s campaign had been misrepresented as an attack on free speech.

“The efforts by the OIC to defend our religion, our holy book and our prophet and our people have often been misrepresented as being contrary to international human rights principles and laws and in particular rejected as undermining the freedom of expression or opinion.”

“The reality is different,” he said, and went on to argue that the tenets of Islam do not endorse compulsion in religion and uphold religious tolerance and freedom of opinion, and that – according to Mohammed himself – non-Muslims in Islamic countries are not to be harmed.

Akram made no reference to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which have become a central theme in opposition to the OIC’s religious defamation drive.

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