Friday, November 21, 2008

The OIC & the UN: defamation of religions as incitement

Date: Friday 21 November 2008
Subj: The OIC & the UN: defamation of religions as incitement
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

This posting follows on from last week's posting entitled:
"The OIC & the UN: Islamophobia and 'defamation of religion'" (15 Nov 2008).

The 15 November posting centred around the "Draft Outcome Document for the Durban Review Conference 2009" which had just been penned at the Second Preparatory Session held in Geneva 6-17 October. The Durban Review Conference (also known as Durban II) is due to be held in Geneva in April 2009. It is clear from the draft outcome document that a major focus of Durban II will be a "new form of racism" -- Islamophobia -- which is allegedly incited through "defamation of religion". At Durban II it will be proposed that covenants be amended and legal instruments created to ban defamation of Islam (i.e. incitement to Islamophobia) in order to preserve peace and prevent a Muslim "holocaust".



In June 2008, at the invitation of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) submitted an analysis of the concept of "Defamation of Religions" as it is being introduced by the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and General Assembly.

The paper is available on-line and is essential reading for anyone seeking a clearer understanding of the implications of the resolution "Combating Defamation of Religions".
"Combating Defamation of Religions"
Submission to the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights.
European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ). 2 June 2008

Another excellent analysis comes from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. They have issued an "Issues Brief" on "Defamation of Religions", the updated 27 May 2008

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty regards the defamation of religions concept as "fundamentally inconsistent with the principles outlined in the United Nation's founding and legal documents" as "it violates the very foundations of the human rights tradition by protecting ideas rather than the individuals who hold ideas".

The Becket Fund notes that anti-defamation measures would "force the state to determine which religious viewpoints may be expressed".

"'Defamation of religions' measures . . . are used to protect a set of beliefs, ideas, and philosophies. Yet religions make conflicting truth claims and indeed the diversity of truth claims is exactly what religious freedom as a concept is designed to protect." It adds: "There is no basis in international or regulatory law for the concept of protection of religious ideas."

The ECLJ position is clear from its opening paragraphs: "The position of the ECLJ in regards to the issue of 'defamation of religion' resolutions, as they have been introduced at the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly, is that they are in direct violation of international law concerning the rights to freedom of religion and expression. The 'defamation of religion' resolutions establish as the primary focus and concern the protection of ideas and religions generally, rather than protecting the rights of individuals to practise their religion, which is the chief purpose of international religious freedom law . . ."


Because the resolutions on combating defamation of religions are sponsored by the OIC, the ECLJ examines freedom of religion and freedom of expression in OIC states to properly understand the OIC's philosophy regarding this concept they are advancing. The ECLJ concludes: "The clever thrust of the OIC position uses the concepts of 'defamation of religion' and blasphemy as both sword and shield." In the West it is used as a sword against the media, academics and all critics of Islam, while in Muslim countries "blasphemy laws are used as a shield to protect the dominant religion (Islam) . . . silence minority religious believers and prevent Muslims from converting to other faiths, which is still a capital crime in many Muslim countries".

The ECLJ recommended that the OHCHR and the UN uphold Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Link 1) and Articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Link 2). (Those articles are copied at the end of this posting for your convenience).


Concerning the right to freedom of expression -- which is outlined in ICCPR Article 19 -- ICCPR Article 20 part 2 makes the following provision: "Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law."

The ECLJ notes that Article 20 of ICCPR is "at the heart of the debate involving the legal justification of the 'defamation of religions' resolutions". The ECLJ quotes UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Asma Jahangir: "The threshold of the acts that are referred to in article 20 is relatively high because they have to constitute advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred. Accordingly, the Special Rapporteur is of the opinion that expressions should only be prohibited under article 20 if they constitute incitement to imminent acts of violence or discrimination against a specific individual or group."

This is exactly what the OIC is addressing as it seeks now to shift the focus from "defamation of religions" to "incitement" of dangerous Islamophobia.

Consider these words from Mr Githu Muigai's first address to the UN General Assembly as Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (3 November 2008, Geneva):

"In the ninth session of the Human Rights Council, I presented my predecessor's [Mr Doudou Diene's] report on 'Combating Defamation of Religion'. The report highlights key issues, including reflecting the state of some forms of religious discrimination including Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism and Christianophobia. The report also makes a central recommendation to Member States, particularly in the context of the Durban Review Process: to move from the concept of 'defamation of religions' to the notion of 'incitement to racial and religious hatred'. In this regard, I was glad to be informed that there seems to be an emerging trend among most Member States in agreeing to this idea, which would help ground the debate on concrete human rights principles and norms." (Link 3)

If the OIC can re-shape the "defamation of religions" issue into one of "incitement" and "public order" -- don't forget, they have already succeeded in making it a human rights issue by re-moulding it as an issue of racism -- then those who seek provisions to protect freedom of expression through Articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR will find that they no longer have a case. In fact, if "defamation of religions" is made an issue of incitement to religious hatred, violence or "holocaust", then according to Article of ICCPR that incitement/defamation should be prohibited by law.


Meanwhile, yet another interfaith or inter-cultural initiative has come and gone. The Saudi-sponsored, UN-run "Culture of Peace" conference -- a follow-up from the Saudi-sponsored Madrid conference -- was held in the UN Headquarters in New York 12-13 November.

The President of the UN General Assembly, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann (a Nicaraguan Catholic priest and ex-Sandinista advisor to and foreign minister under Daniel Ortega) opened the peace conference with these provocative words: "Our world is experiencing an extremely difficult period, the worst since the founding of the United Nations. It is a time of numerous bankruptcies, but the worst is the moral bankruptcy of humankind's self-proclaimed 'more advanced societies', which has spread throughout the world." (Link 4)

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah lamented that throughout history conflicts have resulted from mankind's pre-occupation with differences. While King Abdullah's analysis of history is debatable his implication is clear: if we want to live in peace we should refrain from being pre-occupied with our differences. (Links 4 and 5)

Felice Gaer, chairwoman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom commented that she'd have liked to see the conference held in Saudi Arabia. "The fact that it isn't speaks volumes," she said adding that Saudi Arabia's entrenched and systematic religious discrimination would make the conditions of entrance into the country intolerable for non-Muslim religious leaders.

Reporting on the Saudi-sponsored "Culture of Peace" conference for FOX News, Jennifer Lawinski writes: "Commission chairwoman Gaer thinks it's more than a public relations move for the Saudi government, it's a cooperative effort between Muslim nations to reinforce the defamation of religion resolution they're sponsoring before the General Assembly this fall.

"The resolution, introduced by Pakistan to the UN Human Rights Council in 1999 has been taken up by the General Assembly and passed every year since 2005.

"The non-binding Resolution 62/145 adopted in 2007 says it 'notes with deep concern the intensification of the campaign of defamation of religions and the ethnic and religious profiling of Muslim minorities in the aftermath of 11 September 2001.'

"It 'stresses the need to effectively combat defamation of all religions and incitement to religious hatred, against Islam and Muslims in particular.'

"Gaer said the Saudi-sponsored inter-faith meeting in Madrid, like the UN resolution, was part of an attempt to legitimise sharia law by making attendees sign a declaration that said the participants would encourage 'respecting heavenly religions, preserving their high status, condemning any insult to their symbols'.

"'This was a Madrid declaration calling for or affirming the idea of the global blasphemy law in slightly moderated language,' she said. 'This would give them the freedom to declare anything from cartoons to incitement to a whole range of things to be defamation.'

"Twenty-two members of the Council of the League of Arab States adopted the declaration and asked the UN and UNESCO to do so as well.

"The defamation of religions resolution has been criticised for acting as a shield for countries that persecute any insult to Islam and intimidate Western nations that may attempt to criticise them.

"'The problem is that this particular conference will legitimise the Saudis as somehow the leaders [of the anti-religious defamation movement] when they are the promoters of a particularly intolerant form of their own religions practice,' Gaer said. 'It will promote this idea of defamation which puts severe restrictions on freedom of expression and turns the whole concept of human rights on its head.'" (Link 6)


The Culture of Peace conference's unanimously approved resolution "Recognises the commitment of all religions to peace" (Link 7). The problems caused by some believing that "peace" is achieve through the elimination of dissent and difference, or through enforced submission, conformity or bland uniformity was not addressed. Rather, leaders were repeatedly encouraged to accept the myth that while creeds may vary considerably, faith leads us to common (presumably noble) values.

The reality is however, that our diverse creeds and faiths give rise to diverse, sometimes conflicting values. The question remains: what should be protected -- state-proscribed creeds or the fundamental rights of human beings?

The OIC will seek to legitimise the defamation of religions issue by re-casting it (using the language of the ICCPR) as an issue of incitement to religious discrimination, hatred and violence, which poses a serious threat to public order, national security and human rights.




3) Statement by Githu Muigai
Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance
63 rd session of the General Assembly, Third Committee, Item 62(a)
3 Nov 2008, New York

4) UN conference on culture of peace kicks off
Xinhua, 13 Nov 2008

5) King Abdullah address at the UN Peace through Dialogue meeting
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz address to the High Level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on Peace Through Dialogue, New York, November 12, 2008

6) Critics Say U.N. 'Culture of Peace' Meeting Hides Culture of Oppression
By Jennifer Lawinski for FOX News, 6 November 2008,2933,448104,00.html

7) Culture of Peace Resolution.
United Nations General Assembly A/63/L.24/Rev.1 11 November 2008 Culture of Peace. 14 Nov 2008

UDHR Article 18:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

ICCPR Article 19:
1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.

ICCPR Article 20:
1. Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.
2. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.