Is "Defamation of Religions" Passé? the United Nations, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and Islamic State Practices: Lessons from Pakistan

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This Article examines the current status and future of the "defamation of religions" Resolutions adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Although, since 2011, no explicit resolutions on this subject have been passed in the Human Rights Council or the UN General Assembly, both the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and its individual members remain vocal in campaigning for the banning and criminalization of "defamation of religions." The Article highlights the continuing threat from the concept of "defamation of religions" for human rights law and for the protection of minorities within Organisation of Islamic Cooperation member states. The Article draws comparisons between the concepts of "defamation of religions" and blasphemy laws as currently operational in Pakistan, and in so doing, highlights the tragic consequences of the domestic application of blasphemy laws in the context of a religiously intolerant society.


The United Nations (UN) Resolutions on "defamation of religions" have been the subject of much controversy since 1999, when, at the behest of Pakistan, the UN Commission on Human Rights adopted its first resolution on this matter.1 For well over a decade, several resolutions under the banner of "defamation of religions" were sponsored within the UN by members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)-the second largest inter-governmental organization in the world after the UN, which officially represents modern Islamic states.2 These OIC-sponsored resolutions were adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights, its successor-the Human Rights Council (HRC)3-and the UN General Assembly.4

The year 2011 witnessed an apparent move by the UN organs away from the concept of "defamation of religions." In March 2011, the HRC adopted a more generic resolution, entitled "Combating Intolerance, Negative Stereotyping and Stigmatization of, and Discrimination, Incitement to Violence and Violence Against, Persons Based on Religion or Belief,"5 while the General Assembly adopted a resolution entitled "United against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance" in September 2011.6 The General Assembly adopted a further resolution in December 2011 on combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief.7 The same sentiment was echoed in the most recent session of the HRC.8

Notwithstanding this apparent departure from explicit references to "defamation of religions" in the UN, this Article identifies a continuing trend on the part of the OIC and its members towards the banning and criminalization of all forms of "defamation of religions" and protecting and promoting analogous domestic anti-blasphemy laws.9 This is especially evident in the psyche and practice of states, such as Pakistan, that maintain far-reaching blasphemy laws. Despite a recent absence of resolutions in the UN, this Article focuses on the continuing dangerous path in the development of the concept of "defamation of religions," reinforced by domestic blasphemy laws as currently operational in Pakistan.

This Article is broadly divided into four main parts. After this introduction, Part II investigates issues relating to "defamation of religions." It examines the content and scope of "defamation of religions" resolutions in the UN and OIC and explores the reasoning behind the promotion of this concept by OIC member states. Part III retains a focus on the practices of Pakistan, as the primary protagonist and instigator of the UN and the OIC initiatives on "defamation of religions." Pakistan's record of promoting freedom of religion and protecting rights of religious minorities is examined in the light of its recently undertaken obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In this regard, Pakistan's extensive and wide-ranging blasphemy laws are examined in detail. …


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