UN General Assembly President calls for censorship

United Nations General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann said on Tuesday that the world body should ban defamation of all religions and – bizarrely – claimed that banning speech in this way would not impinge upon freedom of speech.

“Yes, I believe that defamation of religion should be banned,” he said in response to a question at a press conference to highlight the interfaith conference at the UN headquarters. No one should try to defame Islam or any other religion, he said, adding: “We should respect all religions.”

Ophelia Benson nails exactly whats wrong with this bit of doublethink:

Well now how would you go about banning defamation of religion without impinging on freedom of speech? How would anyone? You might as well say Yes, I believe that defamation of capitalism [or socialism, or monetarism, or economics, or photography, or mushrooms, or rabbits] should be banned and disagree that such a move would impinge upon freedom of speech. It makes the same amount of sense. And another thing - there is a difference between saying that no one should try to X and saying that X should be banned - a big and very important difference. Its more than a little depressing that a guy (a priest, as he is) who is UN General Assembly President doesnt get that distinction, or perhaps doesnt think it matters. Its a little depressing that the UN General Assembly President thinks the UN should ban kinds of speech that the UN General Assembly President doesnt like.

Christians start to notice the dangers of anti-Blasphemy laws

For quite some time, various secular and free speech campaigners have been highlighting the attempts by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to enshrine a special status for Islam into international law as well as their efforts to ensure that “religious defamation” is banned during discussion at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council.

Now, as the Christian Post (via) reports, Christian leaders are starting to cotton on to the dangers posed by these resolutions.

“This anti-blasphemy resolution is mostly seen to be putting a ‘chilling effect’ on Christian work and outreach around the world, and that is a very troubling development for us,” said Carol Moeller, president/CEO of Open Doors, according to Mission Network News.

The non-binding resolution was first introduced by Pakistan and the OIC at the UN Human Rights Council in 1999. It was amended to include religions other than Islam, and has since passed every year. In 2005, Yemen proposed a similar resolution before the General Assembly and now the 192-nation Assembly is set to vote on it again.

Resolution 62/145, which was adopted in 2007, says it “notes 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 September 11, 2001.”

It “stresses the need to effectively combat defamation of all religions and incitement to religious hatred, against Islam and Muslims in particular.”

Moeller points out that the net effect of this resolution is for Christian evangelists to be silence or to be intimidated whenever Christianity and Islam encounter each other within a culture.

Although the resolution is non-binding, it has been passed several times giving it a kind of authority and, in effect protecting militant Islamists who retaliate against perceived offenses, Moeller said.

The slope is so slippery because everything that purports to criticize Islam is considered blasphemy. Anything that promotes another religious viewpoint, like Christianity, is considered blasphemy,” he said. “It really becomes the ultimate weapon against free religious speech around the world.

Other religious freedom advocates have also disapproved of the resolution, including Kevin “Seamus” Hasson, founder and president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and Paul Schriefer, advocacy director for Freedom House.

The ongoing threat to international free speech

Regular visitors to this blog will (I hope) be aware of attempts by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to enshrine a special status for Islam into international law. There is also an ongoing controversy over efforts by the same group to ensure that “religious defamation” is banned during discussion at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 60 in December and many Islamic countries are taking upon themselves to declare it unacceptable, preferring instead their own 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam which attempts to limit freedom of speech by insisting that opinions should be expressed in such a manner “as would not be contrary to the principles of the shariah.”

Every year since 1999 the OIC has succeeded in passing a resolution on Combating the Defamation of Religions in the Human Rights Council (HRC), and in March this year an amendment was passed which means the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression (an individual supposed to report instances where free speech is stifled in UN member states) to report on instances in which the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination.

Over the past year, a number of non-religious organisations and Western governments have begun to wake up to what is happening, and concern has been expressed widely that the OIC are trying to introduce a prohibition against blasphemy sanctioned by international law. With this in mind, Im thankful to the New Humanist for pointing me in the direction of a report which has been written by Austin Dacey and Colin Koproske.

Islam and Human Rights (pdf) has been produced for the Center for Inquiry and analyses the issue in detail, discusses the dangers posed for free speech and offers recommendations for the HRC.

The conclusion of the report is worth repeating:

It is clear that if the ideals of the Universal Declaration are to be realized, nations and peoples committed to human rights must take it upon themselves to reverse the present trends toward the compartmentalization of rights and censorship of free speech. Therefore, we join with many civil society organizations around the world in opposing the Islamic human rights movement and denouncing the unnecessary, unwise, and immoral developments at the United Nations Human Rights Council and the restrictions on freedom of expression being entertained by the General Assembly.

The noble purpose of the International Bill of Rights and the United Nations is not to close any one matter off from discussion within society, but to open all societies to free, public discussion of every matter. Liberal rights are not guaranteed; we must constantly defend them against those who would trade our liberties for security, order, control, or conformity. A common standard of achievement, and not special cultural or religion rights, is the best guarantor of equal freedom and mutual respect.

The full report is well worth reading and can be downloaded by clicking here.