U.S. Fights Islamic Anti-Defamation Push; Cites Clash with Free Speech

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 2, 2008 | Go to article overview

U.S. Fights Islamic Anti-Defamation Push; Cites Clash with Free Speech


Byline: Betsy Pisik, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

UNITED NATIONS -- The Bush administration, European governments and religious rights organizations are mounting a new effort to defeat a General Assembly resolution that demands respect for Islam and other religions but has been used to justify persecution of religious minorities.

The resolution, called Combating Defamation of Religion, is sponsored by the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and has been approved by the world body annually since 2005. It comes up for renewal this fall.

U.S. officials said they hope to persuade moderate Muslim nations - among them Senegal, Mali, Nigeria and Indonesia - to reject the measure, which lacks the force of law but has provided diplomatic cover for regimes that repress critical speech. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.

Religious rights groups say other U.N. measures, including statements by the Human Rights Council in Geneva, replicate the language of the resolution.

Before, it was one resolution with no impact and no implementation, said Felice Gaer, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan federal body that investigates abuses and proposes policies to advance freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Now we are seeing a clear attempt by OIC countries to mainstream the concept and insert it into just about every other topic they can, Miss Gaer said. They are turning freedom of expression into restriction of expression.

European governments are also concerned.

The European Center for Law and Justice filed a brief with the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in June warning that such anti-defamation resolutions are in direct violation of international law concerning the rights to freedom of religion and expression.

U.S. officials working on human rights said the resolutions are being used to justify harsh blasphemy laws in countries such as Pakistan, Egypt, Sudan and Afghanistan.

The OIC said most of the language in the Combating Defamation of Religion resolution has been used in conventions on cultural and civil rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and resolutions to combat racism.

The densely worded document is meant to safeguard religious ideas and allow religious minorities to lead a life of respect ... free of coercion, fear or threat, the OIC office in Geneva told The

Washington Times in an e-mail The office noted that UN. human rights rapporteurs have been reporting an increase in the number and intensity of racio-religious discrimination.

Incidents cited include remarks last year about Islam by Pope Benedict XVI, the publication of cartoons in Danish newspapers that contained unflattering images of the prophet Muhammad and religious rulings issued against iconoclastic Muslim writers such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Salman Rushdie. …

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