A Christian human rights group expressed "grave concern" on Tuesday for the future of individual freedom as a number of states at the U.N. Durban Review Conference pushed agendas that seek to protect religions and governments at the expense of the rights of individuals.
"It is scandalous that a U.N. Conference on Racism has been hijacked by states who are pursuing an altogether different agenda threatening the very idea of individual rights," said Tina Lambert, advocacy director of Christian Solidarity Worldwide. "In seeking to protect 'religion' from defamation it is clear that existing international human rights protections will be undermined, specifically freedom of religion and freedom of expression."
Prior to the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) had introduced and backed a resolution that denounces defamation of religion.
Critics of the resolution, including more than 180 non-government organizations, warn that it could be manipulated to justify anti-blasphemy laws and intimidate human rights activists and religious dissenters. Instead of protecting adherents of religions, including those of religious minorities, the resolution protects religions themselves, they say.
Despite strong protest from NGOs around the world, the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted the resolution on March 26.
At this week's U.N. conference, a number of countries are advocating similar measures for "combating defamation of religion" instead of focusing on the official theme of tackling racism, the human rights group complained.
"CSW calls on all remaining conference participants to honor their obligations to protect human rights and their responsibility to secure freedom of religion and freedom of expression for all people," Lambert urged.
On Sunday, the Christian human rights group attended the Geneva Summit, an unofficial preliminary summit for human rights NGOs, which takes place a day prior to the April 20-24 conference.
The controversial U.N. anti-racism conference was boycotted by the United States, Israel, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Poland and Germany over anticipated offensive remarks about Israel and the Holocaust.
As expected, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ranted about Israel on Monday, calling it a "paragon of racism" founded on "the pretext of Jewish sufferings" during World War II, according to the Washington Post.
Ahmadinejad's comments prompted several European diplomats to walk out of the opening session.