U.N. Council drops ‘defamation’ in resolution

By March 30, 2011

International (ODM/MNN) — The
United Nations Human Rights Council dropped the "defamation" part of the
Religions Resolution. 

Advocacy Director for Open Doors USA Lindsay Vessey says, "The U.S. government was very active in
working with them in drafting a new text, so it's no longer a ‘Defamation of
Religions Resolution,' but it's actually a new resolution on promoting
religious tolerance." 

Groups like Open Doors joined a coalition of many others to
protest the import of the resolution. Through their advocacy campaign "Free to Believe," more than 428,000
people from over 70 different countries signed a petition urging countries to
vote against the defamation resolution last fall. The defamation resolution
received the least support ever in 2010, narrowly passing the UN Human Rights
Council and General Assembly by 4 and 13 votes, respectively.

The original non-binding
resolution has been put forth by the Organization of Islamic Conference
and accepted by the Council since 1999. The risk was that "as it continues to pass, people look on it
favorably, as if this is something that we all agree to. It also gave
legitimacy to these national laws that were so bad, like in Pakistan where they
have the blasphemy law."

new resolution refers to the Charter of the United Nations, reiterating the
right to freedom of religion or belief. The resolution also reaffirms the
positive role that the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and
expression has, while expressing concern about incidents of intolerance,
discrimination and violence against persons based on their religion or belief
in all regions of the world.

Says Vessey, "It's not something that the U.S. would write,
ourselves, but it is significantly better and addresses almost all of the
issues that we had with the previous resolution."

the resolution strongly deplores all acts of violence against persons on the
basis of their religion or belief, as well as any such acts directed against
their homes, businesses, properties, schools, cultural centers or places of
worship. It recognizes that open public debate of ideas can be the best
protection against religious intolerance.

The defamation of religions resolutions, although not
legally binding, provided international legitimacy for national laws that
punish blasphemy or ban criticism of a religion. A prime example is the
blasphemy law in Pakistan. Vessey notes
that "sharing a truth claim, particularly one about Christ, like 'Jesus is the
Son of God'–something like that, would be considered ‘blasphemous' in Islam."

The impact is chilling. "In that system, evangelizing could
land you in prison, or even with the death penalty", she explains, adding
that "now, with the UN no longer
supporting that kind of conduct, I think that's a very positive thing. How is
that actually going to be implemented on the ground, if countries still have
their national [blasphemy] laws?"

the changes are an obvious answer to prayer, how OIC member countries treat
religious minorities is still an issue. Additionally, Vessey says, "We're very wary of what might happen.
We're looking to see if they try to bring it up in another avenue at the UN."

Carl Moeller, president/CEO of Open Doors USA, adds: "The most disturbing issues with the defamation resolutions
at the UN have been addressed in this new resolution. Open
Doors recognizes and appreciates the critical role that U.S. legislators, the
U.S. State Department under both the previous and current administration, and
fellow religious freedom groups have played in campaigning and lobbying
against the defamation of religions resolutions and producing a compromise
text. I
warmly welcome this effort of the Human Rights Council to address both freedom
of expression and freedom of religion or belief in a more balanced and
constructive way."

Doors will be monitoring whether or not the countries implement the stated
ideals of the new draft, because, she says, "It's fine to introduce the
resolution, but if you're not abiding by it, what have you really

member countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan continue to
actively persecute religious minorities or allow extremists inside their
countries to persecute non-Muslim faith groups with little or no consequences.

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