U.N. Rights Expert: Interfaith Efforts More Effective than Blasphemy Laws

National governments should be wary of "over-legislation" when it comes to religious criticism and incitement, warned the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

Furthermore, education and dialogue among religious leaders and youth of different faiths is more effective at reducing religious tensions than blasphemy laws, Asma Jahangir told the press Tuesday after presenting her latest report to the General Assembly's Third Committee.

Jahangir's comments were made as the General Assembly considers a resolution sponsored by the Organization of Islamic Conference that would criminalize words or actions that are deemed defamatory towards a particular religion.

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Though supporters of the resolution insist that the "defamation of religion" should be considered a human rights violation, 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.

Furthermore, the religion mentioned in the text of the resolution is Islam.

Despite strong protest from NGOs around the world, the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted such a resolution on March 26, as it has done for years since OIC first sponsored the resolution in 1999.

As the resolution is currently non-binding, OIC is still working to see the U.N. adopt a binding international covenant against the "defamation of religions."

Next month, the U.N. Third Committee is also expected to pass a "defamation of religions" resolution.

When asked about her perspective on international action against the defamation of religion, the United Nation's special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief said that it was not terminology that she preferred.

If defamation of religion did become incorporated into human rights terminology, it would only serve to undermine human rights, Asma said.

Since 1999, the Organization of the Islamic Conference has annually sponsored a "defamation of religions" resolution in the U.N. Human Rights Council, and, since 2005, in the General Assembly.

Groups that have denounced the "defamation of religions" resolutions include the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Freedom House, U.N. Watch, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced her opposition to the proposed resolutions, saying that such policies would restrict free speech.

"Based on our own experience, we are convinced that the best antidote to intolerance is not the defamation of religion's approach of banning and punishing offensive speech, but rather, a combination of robust legal protections against discrimination and hate crimes, proactive government outreach to minority religious groups, and the vigorous defense of both freedom of religion and expression," she stated.

Clinton also said an individual's ability to practice his or her religion has no bearing on others' freedom of speech.

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