Groundbreaking Consensus Reached to Abandon Global Blasphemy Code at the United Nations

Greater efforts needed to combat violence, discrimination and hatred without restricting free speech

Washington, DC – Today in Geneva, members of the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a groundbreaking resolution that seeks to address violence, discrimination and incitement to religious hatred without reference to the controversial notion of “defamation of religions.” Human Rights First said the move marks an important shift away from efforts at the UN to create an international blasphemy code, something that has for the past decade been supported by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). “This new text adopted by the UN Human Rights Council is a huge achievement because, for the first time in many years, it focuses on the protection of individuals rather than religions,” said Human Rights First’s Tad Stahnke. “The consensus behind today’s resolution should put the divisive debates on defamation of religions behind us. Instead, states need to do more to adopt measures to combat violence and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief, as well as address religious hatred without restricting speech. The resolution is a start, but recent events across the globe remind us that much more work needs to be done.” Human Rights First said today’s landmark shift can be attributed to a number of factors. Support for the defamation concept has been waning at both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. Over the last year, countries from several regions including Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Fiji, Republic of Korea, Solomon Islands, Mexico, Uruguay and Zambia have shifted their votes in opposition to the defamation resolution. Furthermore, the recent assassinations of Governor Salmaan Taseer and Minister Shabhaz Bhatti in Pakistan, as well as the outbreaks of mob violence in Indonesia, have all directly related to the existence of national blasphemy laws – heightened already existing concerns about the abuse of these laws. In a recent Human Rights First report, the organization identified scores of cases that provide ample warning of the dangers of enacting a global blasphemy law. The study documents over 70 such cases in 15 countries where the enforcement of blasphemy laws have resulted in death sentences and long prison terms as well as arbitrary detentions, and have sparked assaults,  murders, and mob attacks. Human Rights First has long advocated to reverse the defamation approach and has encouraged states to combat hatred without restricting speech. Several of the organizations recommendations were included in the resolution adopted today. Days before the deal at the UN was brokered, Human Rights First invited Shehrbano Taseer to address UN delegations on the abuses of national blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Shehrbano Taseer is the daughter of slain Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, who was murdered by his own bodyguard following the governor’s opposition to abuses of Pakistan’s blasphemy statute.


Published on March 24, 2011


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