Since 1999, U.N. human rights subgroups have passed resolutions every year that incorporated the Islamic states' preferred language against “defamation of religions.”
But these proposals declined in popularity, especially after two opponents of Pakistan's blasphemy law were murdered by Islamic extremists in 2011.
This year, for the first time since 1999, there was no U.N. resolution urging governments to repress either “defamation” or “vilification” of religions.
Instead, the U.N.’s Human Rights Council adopted a resolution condemning religious intolerance.
Leo called the rejection of this year's anti-“defamation” proposal “good news.”
He said the resolution against religious intolerance made it clear that “you shouldn't have laws that criminalize anything other than incitement to violent acts.”
Other international observers are less confident about this latest U.N. action.
Ashley McGuire, program director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said the new resolution includes language “recycled” from earlier efforts to pass a global blasphemy law.
This language, she told CNA, remains “very problematic,” as in the case of phrases like “incitement to hatred.” Such a language, McGuire said “could be interpreted quite widely” to suppress legitimate criticism.
In one passage of the new resolution, the council “urges states to take effective measures … to address and combat” incidents of “religious intolerance, discrimination and related violence.” However, another portion of the same provision seems to suggest further government measures against “incitement to discrimination” or “hostility.”
McGuire believes the new resolution's central flaw is its failure to distinguish between speech that some may find offensive or provocative, and speech that constitutes an incitement to violence against members of a religion.
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“Incitement to violence is something that's already condemned in international law,” she said. “But to say things that are religious in nature, and provocative, is an entirely different thing. What continues to be the problem is the conflation of the two.”
McGuire also noted that the new resolution's failure to condemn blasphemy laws would allow Islamic states to continue claiming a U.N. mandate for such measures.
Zamir Akram, Pakistan's ambassador to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said the new resolution “does not replace the (Islamic conference’s) earlier resolutions on combating defamation of religions, which … continue to remain valid.”