More than 100 organizations, including Muslim and secularist ones, have signed a petition against the proposed U.N. resolutions on the "defamation of religions," which they contend will do more harm than good for religious freedom.
The "Common Statement from Civil Society on the Concept of the 'Defamation of Religions,'" signed by organizations in over 20 countries, opposes the Organization of the Islamic Conference's (OIC) proposal for the United Nations to adopt a binding treaty that would protect religions from defamation. The groups pointed out that a similar resolution adopted earlier this year only cites Islam as the religion that should be protected.
Moreover, human rights groups say the resolutions will give credit to anti-blasphemy laws in countries such as Pakistan and Sudan.
Reports indicate that blasphemy laws have been widely abused to justify violence and abuse against religious minorities in predominantly Muslim countries. Blasphemy laws can also be used to silence critics of a religion and restrict freedom of speech.
"In seeking to protect 'religion' from defamation it is clear that existing international human rights protections will be undermined, specifically freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression," said Tina Lambert, Christian Solidarity Worldwide's advocacy director.
"For the sake of those who already suffer unjustly under such legislation (blasphemy laws) and for the protection of our existing international human rights framework, it is vital that member states act to prevent such a treaty or optional protocol being established," she said.
Since 1999, when the "defamation of religions" resolution was first proposed, this is the first time that sponsors have asked for it to become a binding treaty.
Angela C. Wu, international law director of the Becket Fund, one of the groups that signed the petition, argued, "Human rights are meant to protect the individuals, not ideas or governments. Yet the concept of 'defamation of religions' further empowers governments to choose which peacefully expressed ideas are permissible and which are not.
"It is pivotal for human rights defenders around the globe to unite against this flawed concept before it becomes binding law."
Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also denounced the "defamation of religions" resolutions, saying that such policies would restrict free speech. She said that while the United States opposes religious discrimination and persecution, it saw no conflict between the ability of someone to practice his or her faith and another person's freedom of speech.
One resolution was introduced by Syria, on behalf of the OIC, and Belarus and Venezuela in New York on Oct. 29, and the other was proposed by Pakistan, on behalf of the OIC, and Nigeria in Geneva on Oct. 30.
Groups that signed the petition include the American Center for Law and Justice, Open Doors, Jubilee Campaign, American Jewish Congress, ChinaAid, Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, Baptist World Alliance, Anti-Defamation League, the American Islamic Congress, American Islamic Forum for Democracy, Concerned Women for America, and the American Humanist Association.
The preliminary vote on the proposed binding treaty is expected before Thanksgiving, and the final plenary vote is expected in early to mid-December.