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Misgivings Over UNCHR Resolution on Islamophobia

Reuters reports on a new resolution from the sixty-first session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights:

The 53-member state forum adopted a resolution, presented by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), deploring the intensification of a “campaign of defamation” against Muslims following the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

…”Stereotyping of any religion as propagating violence or its association with terrorism constitutes defamation of religion. It unfortunately breeds a culture of hatred, disharmony and discrimination,” Pakistan’s envoy, Masood Khan, said in a speech on behalf of the OIC, which links 57 Islamic nations.

Nice words, Khan, and I agree. But I wonder if the notorious use of blasphemy laws to persecute Pakistani Christians also “unfortunately breeds a culture of hatred, disharmony and discrimination”? Or all those jihadi madrassas? But back to Reuters:

…In a recent report, the U.N. special investigator on racism, Doudou Diene, cited examples including “Islamophobic violence” after the murder last November of Dutch film director Theo Van Gogh, and an “alarming number of expulsions of imams” in Europe.

This is probably from one of these two reports noted by UNPO:

the Commission will have before it the report of the High Commissioner on combating defamation of religions (E/CN.4/2005/15) and the progress report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Doudou Diene, on the situation of Muslim and Arab peoples in various parts of the world in the aftermath of the events of 11 September 2001 (E/CN.4/2005/19).

So, just what has the UNHCR resolved to do? Unfortunately, the resolution itself does not appear to be in public domain. It’s listed on the CHR website under “human rights documents” as number E/CN.4/2005/L.12, but clicking on the link irritatingly brings up a “NO AUTHORIZATION” page; the same happens if you want to read Diene’s report, as linked from here (brilliant public relations – talk about handing it on a plate to the wingers). The resolution is not featured on the OIC’s website, either.

However, some details can be gleaned from the UNHCR Newsroom, which relates a summary of the debate. Since there does not appear to be a permalink, I’ll quote the opening in full:

In a resolution (E/CN.4/2005/L.12) on combating defamation of religions, adopted by a roll-call vote of 31 in favour to 16 against, with five abstentions, the Commission expressed deep concern at negative stereotyping of religions and manifestations of intolerance and discrimination in matters of religion or belief still in evidence in some regions of the world; strongly deplored physical attacks and assaults on businesses, cultural centres and places of worship of all religions as well as targeting of religious symbols; noted 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 the tragic events of 11 September 2001; expressed deep concern that Islam was frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism; and further expressed deep concern at programmes and agendas pursued by extremist organizations and groups aimed at the defamation of religions, in particular when supported by Governments. The Commission stressed the need to take resolute action to prohibit the dissemination of racist and xenophobic ideas and material aimed at any religion or its followers through political institutions and organizations, that constituted incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence; urged States to provide, within their respective legal and constitutional systems, adequate protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions; and urged States to ensure equal access to education for all without discrimination of any kind. The Commission also called on the international community to initiate a global dialogue to promote a culture of tolerance and peace based on respect for human rights and religious diversity and urged States, non-governmental organizations, religious bodies and the print and electronic media to support and promote such a dialogue. It also requested the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance to continue to present a report on the situation of Muslims and Arab peoples in various parts of the world and the discrimination faced by them.

The resolution was opposed by both the USA and the EU, among others. Leonard Leo of the USA stated that:

The United States supported the concept of the resolution and agreed with its intent. The resolution was, however, incomplete in that it failed to address attacks against all religions and must also include language pertaining to education and the use of media in the defamation of religion.

While Ian de Jong, for the EU, added that:

The aim of the European Union would have been to achieve a broader, more balanced text, based on the right to freedom of religion or belief and of expression.

De Jong, who is Dutch, seems to have been the only speaker calling for “freedom of expression” to be also included in the resolution. This is a shame – I’m as appalled as Diene about Islamophobic violence in Holland, but it is somewhat perverse to concentrate solely on that violence without acknowledging also the assault on the freedom to criticise religion that van Gogh’s murder represented (my own views on van Gogh’s film can be read here). And with the British government currently backing off from its own proposed new legislation concerning incitement to religious hatred, it’s worrying to see that the UNCHR seems unaware of the problematics.

Among those backing the resolution was China, which informed the forum that “The Government of China was against the defamation of any religion, including Islam”. This will perhaps evoke some hollow laughs from Tibetan Buddhists, Chinese Christians, and adherents of the “evil cult” of Falun Gong.

UPDATE: I found the resolution! I went to this site, where I had to request a password. Although the site where the report is available is described as “for OHCHR staff around the world”, I was given a password, no questions asked, a couple of hours later.

The document has some good points – with groups like LGF and JihadWatch inciting hatred against Muslims, it is quite reasonable that the resolution (at point 16) should make the specific request that

…the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance to continue to examine the situation of Muslims and Arab peoples in various parts of the world, the discrimination faced by them with regard to access to justice, political participation, respect of cultures, physical assaults and attacks against their places of worship, cultural centres, businesses and properties in the aftermath of the events of 11 September 2001 and to report on his findings to the Commission at its sixty-second session, and to make recommendations to improve their situation.

On the other hand, passages like this are both vague and disturbing:

…Noting with deep concern the increasing trend in recent years of statements attacking religions, Islam and Muslims in particular, especially in human rights forums…

Saudi Arabia, which voted in favour of the resolution, must have loved that bit…But there is a particular context here: in 2004 the OIC opposed efforts led by Brazil to have the United Nations recognise the rights of homosexuals. Speaking before the UN, secretary-general Abdelouahed Belkeziz stated that:

The Organization of the Islamic Conference has amongst its consecrated traditions, the respect of the cultural specificities of every human community, and it feels in return that the cultural and faith-related specificities of the Islamic communities should also meet with due respect.

The full text of Belkeziz’s speech can be seen here.

4 Responses

  1. Excellent reporting. I came across your blog by chance and stayed for the quality research in the fight against hypocrisy, intolerance and sloppy thinking. You’re doing a great job!

  2. […] Given the makeup of the UNHRC, sceptics have suggested that “incitement” is here meant to mean any mocking or criticism of Islam or Islamic governments. Actually, while this news has garnered a great deal of publicity, it pretty much repeats a similar resolution made by the old UN Commission on Human Rights two years ago, again at the behest of the OIC, which I blogged on then. […]

  3. […] Defamation and incitement against Muslims is mentioned in particular. The resolution comes two years after a UNHCR Resolution on Islamophobia, again raised by Pakistan, which I blogged at some length at the time. […]

  4. […] blogged on some of these efforts, here and here. The Becket Fund is now part of a ”Coalition to Defend Free Speech” in […]

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