NGOs warn against ban on religion defamation plan

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GENEVA: More than 180 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) called Wednesday on the United Nations human rights body to reject moves to combat religious defamation , arguing it threatened free speech.

The 183 signatories said they were deeply concerned by a draft resolution tabled on March 11 by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) which in their view seeks to restrain and not promote free speech.

They criticize a concept having no basis in domestic or international law and which would alter the very meaning of human rights, which protect individuals from harm, but not beliefs from critical inquiry.

The draft resolution, tabled by Pakistan on behalf of the OIC, will be considered on Thursday or Friday by the 47-member UN Human Rights Council.

It declares that defamation of religions is a serious affront to human dignity leading to restriction on the freedom of religion of their adherents and incitement to religious hatred and violence.

It stresses the need to effectively combat defamation of all religions . in general and against Islam and Muslims in particular, whom it regards as victims of growing stigmatization since the events in New York of Sept. 11, 2001.

This resolution . fails to distinguish between criticism of religion and hatred of the believers, creating the false impression that the first leads inexorably to the second, Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union told reporters in Geneva.

It not only fails in its stated purpose of protecting Muslims from hatred but will actually exacerbate tensions between faith communities.

The NGOs say the resolution illustrates a pervasive and mounting campaign by the OIC to produce UN resolutions, declarations, and world conferences that propagate the concept of defamation of religion .

The concept has been withdrawn recently from the draft final declaration of the UN anti-racism conference, known as Durban II, to be held in Geneva next month. -AFP

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