Strains Emerging on “Defamation of Religion” Ahead of Important Vote

Ahead of two important votes later this week, the Ad Hoc Committee met to discuss the resolution tabled by Nigeria on the “Elaboration of Complementary Standards to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination” (ICERD). Together with the annual resolution on the “Defamation of Religion,” they signal forceful actions by Islamic nations to change international law at the expense of freedom of expression, as part of the follow-up to the 2001 Durban conference on racism. For more on the Ad Hoc Committee and its earlier proceedings, click here

This afternoon’s meeting exposed strains among sponsoring parties and other Ad Hoc Committee members who fear that any new “complementary standards” may negatively impact existing international law protecting the freedom of expression, by which countries would gain new legal instruments with which to suppress newspaper articles, cartoons and other forms of expression deemed offensive on the grounds of racial discrimination.

Here’s a summary of the meeting’s proceedings:

  • South Africa for the African Group and Pakistan for the OIC expressed support for the draft resolution, which Nigeria called a “compromise text” focused on procedural matters. Substantive issues are to be discussed in the working group, said Nigeria, adding that any proposals would inhibit the resolution from moving forward and reaching consensus.
  • The United States made a proposal to change the title of the resolution to reflect the actual title of the committee to include the ICERD. Lichtenstein also proposed language to say that the committee’s framework is the DDPA. Spain for the EU seconded both proposals.  Argentina also proposed inserting a reference in the resolution to recall the DDPA “underlining the importance of further discussing the need to elaborate complementary standards to the Ad Hoc Committee on Complementary Standards to the ICERD.”
  • The United States also added that it would support a new paragraph that the committee would be “determined to pursue concrete actions aimed at eliminating racial discrimination and violence and promoting cultural diversity.” This elicited a strong response by South Africa for the African Group, which contested the proposals by the United States on the grounds that they were substantive and not appropriate for the meeting. The delegate also called the EU’s proposal to add “after 2006” to the resolution “counterproductive.”
  • The United Kingdom and Canada defended the US’s proposal, noting that the spirit of the proposal intends to facilitate consensus by focusing on the aspects of the resolution for which there is already agreement. South Africa for the African Group vehemently defended the draft text and rejected the US proposals for being too substantive. “The ones who said our proposals were too substantive are the ones who adding substance now,” the delegate said.

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