On November 12, the representative of Malaysia, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Belarus, and Venezeula, introduced in the General Assembly’s Third Committee a resolution on combating the “defamation of religions.” The text was approved by a vote of 81 in favor to 55 against, with 43 abstentions.
The draft introduced by the OIC noted with deep concern “the serious instances of intolerance, discrimination, acts of violence based on religion or belief… particularly [against] Muslim minorities… that threaten to impede their full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” In that respect, it expressed concern that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations.
Among the 55 countries voting against the resolution were the United States, Canada, Australia, Israel, all the EU states, and other democracies. Sweden, on behalf of the EU, said they shared the OIC’s concern that people were “routinely victimized on the grounds of religion or belief,” but they could not agree with the concept of “defamation of religion” as a response to such discrimination, because it would “limit freedom of expression and might endanger the atmosphere of tolerance that would enable people of different religions or beliefs to coexist without fear.”
The United States representative lamented that the “increasingly splintered view on this text” did not adequately reflect the views of every state. He went on to say that “freedom of religion was enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights… [F]reedom could not be universally achieved by imposing governmental laws regarding who could say what, when. The United Nations must remain faithful to the central tenet of human rights law, which said that human rights were held by individuals not nations or religions.” The representative finished his statement saying that the U.S. opposed the resolution because it would not agree that prohibiting speech was the way to promote tolerance.
Amongst the 43 countries who abstained, the representatives of Brazil and Jamaica spoke in explanation of their votes. The representative of Brazil stated that his delegation could not support the text as tabled because it believed the concept of the “defamation of religion” needed to be addressed in such a way that was “not detrimental to other rights.” Jamaica’s representative said the draft “should have been more balanced and not confined itself to the concerns of one religion. It had failed to account for the violations of rights of persons of other faiths or religions.”
A coaltion of 100 human rights groups from 20 countries warned that the move would “punish the peaceful expression of disfavored political or religious beliefs and ideas.”