More on the UN resolutions on the “defamation of religions”
Pakistan brought the first “defamation of religions” resolution to the UN Human Rights Council in 1999 — before the attacks of 9/11 and a resulting “backlash” against Muslims. That first resolution was entitled “Defamation of Islam.” That title was later changed to include all religions, although the texts of all subsequent resolutions have continued to single out Islam. The resolutions have passed the UN Human Rights Council every year since the first was introduced. In 2005, the delegate from Yemen introduced a similar resolution to the UN General Assembly, and it passed, as it has every year since, with landslide votes. In March, the Islamic nations were successful in introducing a change to the mandate of the UN’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression — an official who travels the world investigating and reporting on censorship and violations of free speech — to now “report on instances where the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination.” The issue is expected to be a focal point of the UN World Conference Against Racism next year in Geneva (a gathering Canada plans to boycott after the 2001 meeting in Durban devolved into acrimonious exchanges over Israel).
The trend has rights advocates worried for numerous reasons, beginning with the language used. If the notion of “defaming” a religion sounds a little unfamiliar, that’s because it is a major departure from the traditional understanding of what defamation means. Defamation laws traditionally protect individual people from being materially harmed by the dissemination of falsehoods. But “defamation of religions” is not about protecting individual believers from damage to their reputations caused by false statements — but rather about protecting a religion, or some interpretation of it, or the feelings of the followers. While a traditional defence in a defamation lawsuit is that the accused was merely telling the truth, religions by definition present competing claims on the truth, and one person’s religious truth is easily another’s apostasy. “Truth” is no defence in such cases. The subjective perception of insult is what matters, and what puts the whole approach on a collision course with the human rights regime — especially in countries with an official state religion.
Read it all, it’s very important.
h/t Think Progress Watch.