The OIC & the UN: Islamophobia and “defamation of religion”

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By: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


(OIC: Organisation of Islamic Conference)

Durban I -- the UN's first World Conference on Racism, Racial
Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance -- which was held in
Durban, South Africa, in early September 2001 ended with a walkout over
its virulent anti-Semitism. Yet sadly it now seems clear that the Durban
Review Conference (or Durban II), which will be held in Geneva in April
2009, is shaping up to be even worse.

As a prelude to Durban II, a Second Preparatory Session of the 20-state
Preparatory Committee -- of which Libya has been elected chair with
Cuba, Pakistan and Iran as vice-chairs -- was held in Geneva from 6 to
17 October 2008. The resulting "Draft Outcome Document for the Durban
Review Conference 2009" is now available on the United Nations Human
Rights Council (UNHRC) website at LINK 1.

It is clear from the draft document, as well as from reports emanating
from the subsequent 63rd UN General Assembly meeting held in Geneva
during the first week of November, that a central focus of Durban II
will be "Islamophobia", which is being presented as "a new form of racism".

Muslims, the draft declaration asserts, are at dire risk of a racial
"holocaust" due to "a new form of racism" -- "Islamophobia" -- which is
incited through "defamation of Islam".

The draft declaration recommends that local, national and international
laws and human rights covenants be reviewed and amended as necessary so
that "defamation of Islam" is made a criminal offence, losing the
protection it has long enjoyed under the "pretext" of "freedom of
expression, counter terrorism or national security". It recommends that
legal instruments be established to punish offenders -- that is, those
who "defame" Islam by associating it with violence, human rights abuses
or terrorism.

Anne Bayefsky, a York University professor and human rights lawyer who
attended the Second Preparatory Session in Geneva, warns: "This is the
new dimension of Durban 2, which in many ways makes it a greater threat
than Durban 1. It's really setting up a war of ideas, that has rough
implications, between Islamic states and everybody else. . . . Durban 1
was called an assault on Israel; a demonisation of Israel as racist and
analogous to Apartheid South Africa. But in addition, Durban 2 is an
assault on freedom of expression and other essential democratic rights
and freedoms." (Link 2)


The draft declaration has built on the 17 August 2007 report by Mr
Doudou Diene, the then UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of
Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, and
the OIC's Observatory of Islamophobia.

For background see:
UN Human Rights Council: Watershed days. 18 Sept 2007
WEA RLC News & Analysis by Elizabeth Kendal

(This posting gives a thorough critique of Doudou Diene's August 2007
report and considers its implications in terms of the Islamisation of
international human rights.)
OIC: Eliminating "defamation" of Islam. 25 March 2008
WEA RLC News & Analysis by Elizabeth Kendal

(This posting analyses the OIC's Observatory of Islamophobia which was
launched at the OIC Dakar Summit in March 2008. The Observatory of
Islamophobia, which is built on Doudou Diene's August 2007 report to the
UNHRC, must be seen in the context of the OIC's "Ten Year Program of
Action" through which it aims to address the most "prominent challenges
facing the Muslim world today". This posting also presents scenarios and
means through which the OIC might fulfill its goal of establishing
international instruments to punish -- under the pretext of peace and
human rights -- those whom they charge with inciting Islamophobia
through "defamation" of Islam.)


Canada and Israel have already pulled out of Durban II while several
other Western states have threatened to boycott -- most notably Denmark.
As reported by Jette Elbaek Maressa in Jyllands-Posten (28 Oct 2008),
Danish foreign minister Per Stig Moller told his Arab partners during a
round trip to the Middle East that if the Organisation of Islamic
Conference did not withdraw its proposal to make criticism of religion
equivalent to racism, then Western countries will stay away from Durban
II. "If the OIC pushes through this draft resolution, they shall not
expect European or Western countries to be present at the table," he
said. (Link 3)

The Non-Government Organisation "UN Watch" has released a paper on the
Durban II Draft Declaration. Entitled "Shattering the Red Lines: The
Durban II Draft Declaration", it examines a "small selection of the 646
provisions of the Durban II draft declaration, highlighting several that
breach the EU's red lines" (i.e. the lines the EU determined should not
be crossed).

In its opening summary, UN Watch charges that the draft declaration
seeks "to distort human rights laws for the purposes of Islamic
censorship" by "inserting a prohibition against 'defamation of religion'
designed to restrict free speech and impose the censorship of Islamic
anti-blasphemy laws".

UN Watch's paper provides a clear, thorough and yet concise overview and
analysis of the most contentious elements of the Durban II draft
declaration. It is recommended reading. (Link 4)


Reliefweb has published a report on the 63rd General Assembly that was
held in Geneva subsequent to the Durban Review Conference Second
Preparatory Session. LINK 5

The report describes representatives from Egypt, Sudan, Libya and
Pakistan all expressing great concern over the threat posed by this "new
form of racism" -- Islamophobia -- which is incited by "defamation of
religion". According to the Libyan representative, freedom of speech is
not the issue -- at issue is the "misuse" of that right.

The representative from Iran told the assembly that modern-day racism is
no longer based on supposed inequality between races, but is based on
culture, nationality or religion. He claimed that xenophobic acts
against migrants, refugees and asylum seekers; defamation of religions;
religious intolerance and racial profiling are all expressions of this
new form of racism which seeks legitimacy and protection under various
pretexts such as combating terrorism.

According to the representative from Saudi Arabia, Islam rejects all
forms of discrimination and so in Saudi Arabia there are legal
provisions to protect all the rights of all persons regardless of race,
religion, status or gender.

Various free, multi-racial Western democracies (a minority in the UN)
denounced racism while making strong and clear defences of human rights
including religious liberty and freedom of expression.

The representative from France (speaking on behalf of the European Union
[EU]) reminded the assembly that the EU had supported the organisation
of a Review Conference as long as certain conditions were met and
certain lines not crossed. He said that the primary goal should be the
full implementation of existing normative framework and that new norms
should only be drawn up if they were deemed necessary, were subject to a
broad consensus and did not go back on universal achievements by
restricting the current scope of human rights.

He expressed the European Union's concern that the "thought process" on
the possible creation of complementary norms was moving in a direction
that could reduce the level of human rights promotion and protection.
According to Reliefweb, the representative from France said the EU would
"not allow the United Nations principles to be undermined" and would
work in accordance with the principles that had been set out in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He said the Review Conference
should concentrate on the implementation of the existing framework
without restricting any human rights, establishing any hierarchy among
victims, or excluding any one group. As well, the review conference
should show how promoting human rights, especially the freedom of
speech, could play an important role in fighting racism.

The representative from the USA expressed concern at the trend of
conflating issues of racism and religion which he said were two distinct
issues. He likewise asserted that the cure for intolerance is more
dialogue, not less.

The representative from Israel regretted that alliances had trumped
ideals and warned that nations with a genuine desire to promote peace
should guard against the co-opting of legitimate language and ideas by
racist demagogues. He expressed concern that Durban II risked becoming
itself a platform of racial incitement, and he feared that words might
quickly turn to actions.


The OIC formulated its Ten Year Program of Action (TYPOA) in Makkah in
December 2005. Item VI on the TYPOA is "Combating Islamophobia". The OIC
determined to do this by means of: 1) establishing an Observatory on
Islamophobia tasked with monitoring Islamophobia and "defamation" of
Islam and issuing annual reports; 2) getting the UN to adopt an
international resolution on Islamophobia, and call on all States to
enact laws to counter it; and 3) establishing international legal
instruments to enforce anti-defamation laws and deliver deterrent
punishments to those charged with inciting Islamophobia through
defamation of Islam.

The Observatory of Islamophobia was launched in Dakar in March 2008 and
the UN has been passing resolutions against Islamophobia and
"defamation" of religion ever since the OIC and Arab League-incited
Cartoon Intifada of February 2006. All that is left on the OIC's agenda
for combating Islamophobia is the legitimisation and implementation of
national and international laws and legal instruments to punish
offenders. It looks like Durban II might be a step in this direction.

By E N Kendal


1) Draft Outcome Document for the Durban Review Conference 2009

2) Durban 2: New site, same debacle.
Kevin Libin, National Post (Canada) 25 October 2008

3) Danish foreign minister threatens Western boycott of Durban II
Jyllands-Posten 28 Oct 2008
By Jette Elbaek Maressa

4) Shattering the Red Lines: The Durban II Draft Declaration
Selected provisions of United Nations draft published at Second
Preparatory Session
By UN WATCH www.unwatch.org (Oct. 2008).

5) Strengthening respect for human rights key for preventing conflict,
stabilizing post-conflict situations, Third Committee told.
Sixty-third General Assembly
Third Committee
33rd & 34th Meeting (AM & PM)
Hears from Special Rapporteur on Racism, Chair of Mercenaries Working
Group; Religious Defamation, Progress towards Durban Review Conference
among Issues

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