By: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal
This posting follows on from last week's posting entitled:
"The OIC & the UN: Islamophobia and 'defamation of religion'" (15 Nov 2008).
The 15 November posting centred around the "Draft Outcome Document for
the Durban Review Conference 2009" which had just been penned at the
Second Preparatory Session held in Geneva 6-17 October. The Durban
Review Conference (also known as Durban II) is due to be held in Geneva
in April 2009. It is clear from the draft outcome document that a major
focus of Durban II will be a "new form of racism" -- Islamophobia --
which is allegedly incited through "defamation of religion". At Durban
II it will be proposed that covenants be amended and legal instruments
created to ban defamation of Islam (i.e. incitement to Islamophobia) in
order to preserve peace and prevent a Muslim "holocaust".
RESOURCES AND ANALYSIS
In June 2008, at the invitation of the Office of the High Commissioner
of Human Rights (OHCHR), the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ)
submitted an analysis of the concept of "Defamation of Religions" as it
is being introduced by the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) to
the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and General Assembly.
The paper is available on-line and is essential reading for anyone
seeking a clearer understanding of the implications of the resolution
"Combating Defamation of Religions".
"Combating Defamation of Religions"
Submission to the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights.
European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ). 2 June 2008
Another excellent analysis comes from the Becket Fund for Religious
Liberty. They have issued an "Issues Brief" on "Defamation of
Religions", the updated 27 May 2008 condensed version of which can be
found online at: http://www.becketfund.org/files/847df.pdf
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty regards the defamation of
religions concept as "fundamentally inconsistent with the principles
outlined in the United Nation's founding and legal documents" as "it
violates the very foundations of the human rights tradition by
protecting ideas rather than the individuals who hold ideas".
The Becket Fund notes that anti-defamation measures would "force the
state to determine which religious viewpoints may be expressed".
"'Defamation of religions' measures . . . are used to protect a set of
beliefs, ideas, and philosophies. Yet religions make conflicting truth
claims and indeed the diversity of truth claims is exactly what
religious freedom as a concept is designed to protect." It adds: "There
is no basis in international or regulatory law for the concept of
protection of religious ideas."
The ECLJ position is clear from its opening paragraphs: "The position of
the ECLJ in regards to the issue of 'defamation of religion'
resolutions, as they have been introduced at the UN Human Rights Council
and General Assembly, is that they are in direct violation of
international law concerning the rights to freedom of religion and
expression. The 'defamation of religion' resolutions establish as the
primary focus and concern the protection of ideas and religions
generally, rather than protecting the rights of individuals to practise
their religion, which is the chief purpose of international religious
freedom law . . ."
"SWORD AND SHIELD"
Because the resolutions on combating defamation of religions are
sponsored by the OIC, the ECLJ examines freedom of religion and freedom
of expression in OIC states to properly understand the OIC's philosophy
regarding this concept they are advancing. The ECLJ concludes: "The
clever thrust of the OIC position uses the concepts of 'defamation of
religion' and blasphemy as both sword and shield." In the West it is
used as a sword against the media, academics and all critics of Islam,
while in Muslim countries "blasphemy laws are used as a shield to
protect the dominant religion (Islam) . . . silence minority religious
believers and prevent Muslims from converting to other faiths, which is
still a capital crime in many Muslim countries".
The ECLJ recommended that the OHCHR and the UN uphold Article 18 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Link 1) and Articles 19 and 20 of
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Link 2).
(Those articles are copied at the end of this posting for your
FOCUS SHIFTING FROM "DEFAMATION" TO INCITEMENT
Concerning the right to freedom of expression -- which is outlined in
ICCPR Article 19 -- ICCPR Article 20 part 2 makes the following
provision: "Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that
constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be
prohibited by law."
The ECLJ notes that Article 20 of ICCPR is "at the heart of the debate
involving the legal justification of the 'defamation of religions'
resolutions". The ECLJ quotes UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of
Religion or Belief, Asma Jahangir: "The threshold of the acts that are
referred to in article 20 is relatively high because they have to
constitute advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred.
Accordingly, the Special Rapporteur is of the opinion that expressions
should only be prohibited under article 20 if they constitute incitement
to imminent acts of violence or discrimination against a specific
individual or group."
This is exactly what the OIC is addressing as it seeks now to shift the
focus from "defamation of religions" to "incitement" of dangerous
Consider these words from Mr Githu Muigai's first address to the UN
General Assembly as Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism,
racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (3 November
"In the ninth session of the Human Rights Council, I presented my
predecessor's [Mr Doudou Diene's] report on 'Combating Defamation of
Religion'. The report highlights key issues, including reflecting the
state of some forms of religious discrimination including Islamophobia,
Anti-Semitism and Christianophobia. The report also makes a central
recommendation to Member States, particularly in the context of the
Durban Review Process: to move from the concept of 'defamation of
religions' to the notion of 'incitement to racial and religious hatred'.
In this regard, I was glad to be informed that there seems to be an
emerging trend among most Member States in agreeing to this idea, which
would help ground the debate on concrete human rights principles and
norms." (Link 3)
If the OIC can re-shape the "defamation of religions" issue into one of
"incitement" and "public order" -- don't forget, they have already
succeeded in making it a human rights issue by re-moulding it as an
issue of racism -- then those who seek provisions to protect freedom of
expression through Articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR will find that they
no longer have a case. In fact, if "defamation of religions" is made an
issue of incitement to religious hatred, violence or "holocaust", then
according to Article of ICCPR that incitement/defamation should be
prohibited by law.
CONFLICT AS A RESULT OF "PRE-OCCUPATION WITH DIFFERENCE"
Meanwhile, yet another interfaith or inter-cultural initiative has come
and gone. The Saudi-sponsored, UN-run "Culture of Peace" conference -- a
follow-up from the Saudi-sponsored Madrid conference -- was held in the
UN Headquarters in New York 12-13 November.
The President of the UN General Assembly, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann (a
Nicaraguan Catholic priest and ex-Sandinista advisor to and foreign
minister under Daniel Ortega) opened the peace conference with these
provocative words: "Our world is experiencing an extremely difficult
period, the worst since the founding of the United Nations. It is a time
of numerous bankruptcies, but the worst is the moral bankruptcy of
humankind's self-proclaimed 'more advanced societies', which has spread
throughout the world." (Link 4)
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah lamented that throughout history conflicts
have resulted from mankind's pre-occupation with differences. While King
Abdullah's analysis of history is debatable his implication is clear: if
we want to live in peace we should refrain from being pre-occupied with
our differences. (Links 4 and 5)
Felice Gaer, chairwoman of the US Commission on International Religious
Freedom commented that she'd have liked to see the conference held in
Saudi Arabia. "The fact that it isn't speaks volumes," she said adding
that Saudi Arabia's entrenched and systematic religious discrimination
would make the conditions of entrance into the country intolerable for
non-Muslim religious leaders.
Reporting on the Saudi-sponsored "Culture of Peace" conference for FOX
News, Jennifer Lawinski writes: "Commission chairwoman Gaer thinks it's
more than a public relations move for the Saudi government, it's a
cooperative effort between Muslim nations to reinforce the defamation of
religion resolution they're sponsoring before the General Assembly this
"The resolution, introduced by Pakistan to the UN Human Rights Council
in 1999 has been taken up by the General Assembly and passed every year
"The non-binding Resolution 62/145 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 11 September 2001.'
"It 'stresses the need to effectively combat defamation of all religions
and incitement to religious hatred, against Islam and Muslims in
"Gaer said the Saudi-sponsored inter-faith meeting in Madrid, like the
UN resolution, was part of an attempt to legitimise sharia law by making
attendees sign a declaration that said the participants would encourage
'respecting heavenly religions, preserving their high status, condemning
any insult to their symbols'.
"'This was a Madrid declaration calling for or affirming the idea of the
global blasphemy law in slightly moderated language,' she said. 'This
would give them the freedom to declare anything from cartoons to
incitement to a whole range of things to be defamation.'
"Twenty-two members of the Council of the League of Arab States adopted
the declaration and asked the UN and UNESCO to do so as well.
"The defamation of religions resolution has been criticised for acting
as a shield for countries that persecute any insult to Islam and
intimidate Western nations that may attempt to criticise them.
"'The problem is that this particular conference will legitimise the
Saudis as somehow the leaders [of the anti-religious defamation
movement] when they are the promoters of a particularly intolerant form
of their own religions practice,' Gaer said. 'It will promote this idea
of defamation which puts severe restrictions on freedom of expression
and turns the whole concept of human rights on its head.'" (Link 6)
The Culture of Peace conference's unanimously approved resolution
"Recognises the commitment of all religions to peace" (Link 7). The
problems caused by some believing that "peace" is achieve through the
elimination of dissent and difference, or through enforced submission,
conformity or bland uniformity was not addressed. Rather, leaders were
repeatedly encouraged to accept the myth that while creeds may vary
considerably, faith leads us to common (presumably noble) values.
The reality is however, that our diverse creeds and faiths give rise to
diverse, sometimes conflicting values. The question remains: what should
be protected -- state-proscribed creeds or the fundamental rights of
The OIC will seek to legitimise the defamation of religions issue by
re-casting it (using the language of the ICCPR) as an issue of
incitement to religious discrimination, hatred and violence, which poses
a serious threat to public order, national security and human rights.
E N Kendal
1) UDHR http://www.unhchr.ch/udhr/lang/eng.htm
2) ICCPR http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/a_ccpr.htm
3) Statement by Githu Muigai
Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial
discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance
63 rd session of the General Assembly, Third Committee, Item 62(a)
3 Nov 2008, New York
4) UN conference on culture of peace kicks off
Xinhua, 13 Nov 2008
5) King Abdullah address at the UN Peace through Dialogue meeting
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz address to
the High Level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on Peace
Through Dialogue, New York, November 12, 2008
6) Critics Say U.N. 'Culture of Peace' Meeting Hides Culture of Oppression
By Jennifer Lawinski for FOX News, 6 November 2008
7) Culture of Peace Resolution.
United Nations General Assembly A/63/L.24/Rev.1 11 November 2008 Culture
of Peace. 14 Nov 2008
UDHR Article 18:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and
freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or
private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice,
worship and observance.
ICCPR Article 19:
1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right
shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas
of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in
print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this
article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may
therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be
such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre
public), or of public health or morals.
ICCPR Article 20:
1. Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.
2. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes
incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited
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