4 April 2011


United Nations moves away from Defamation of Religions following Open Doors' Right To Believe campaign

United Nations Human Rights Council agrees new resolution in place of controversial Defamation of Religions Resolution

In a significant change of direction, a new resolution in place of the controversial Defamation of Religions Resolution has been adopted by the Human Rights Council in Geneva after it was tabled by Pakistan, on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (the OIC). Following Open Doors successful Right to Believe campaign and petition, the new Resolution reaffirms the right to freedom of religion or belief, including an individual's right to change religion and their right to freedom of expression.

Open Doors, whose Right to Believe campaign called for an end to the Defamation of Religions Resolution, has welcomed the move as a significant and positive step but warns that this does not preclude the OIC from reintroducing the defamation of religions concept in the future.

In 2010, over 428,000 people around the world signed Open Doors' global Right to Believe petition, saying YES to religious liberty and NO to the UN's Defamation of Religions Resolution a Resolution that undermined the individual human right to freedom of religion and expression. In effect the Resolution provided international legitimacy for national laws that punish blasphemy or otherwise ban criticism of a religion.

This global petition brought about an increase in awareness and supplemented the private lobbying efforts of Open Doors and other agencies, resulting in increased opposition to the Defamation of Religions Resolution and reduced support from the international community at the UN General Assembly in December last year.

Eddie Lyle, CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland, stated: "The new Resolution 'Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatisation of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief' appears to be an exceptionally positive move and meets many demands of the Right to Believe campaign."

The new Resolution no longer contains the terms 'defamation' or 'vilification', nor does it single out specific religions. Instead it reinforces member states' existing international human rights obligations, including the right to freedom of religion. The revised wording was put forward under the leadership of Pakistan and the USA, and follows the shocking murder of Pakistan's Minorities Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti.

The new 'Combating Intolerance Resolution' reinforces member states' existing international human rights obligations, including those under Articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) concerning the right to freedom of religion, the right to change one's religion and the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

While the new Resolution condemns any advocacy of religious hatred, encouragingly it also recognises that the open public debate of ideas can be among the best protections against religious intolerance and calls for an increase of interfaith and intercultural efforts.

After first emerging in 1999, since 2006 the Defamation of Religions Resolutions have been proposed twice annually: in the spring at the HRC (where only the 47 member states of the HRC may vote) and in the autumn at the UNGA (where all UN members have the opportunity to vote). These previous resolutions sought to protect religions from any critical comment, rather than protecting individual human beings.

Internationally, many religious minorities suffer from nationally imposed blasphemy laws. During the current regular session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, several delegations have referred to Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti from Pakistan, both of whom lost their lives recently because of their support for changes to Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws.