Support lower for U.N. text on religion defamation

Patrick Worsnip

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. General Assembly condemned defamation of religion for the fifth year running on Friday but support continued to erode for a resolution Western countries say threatens freedom of speech.

The assembly passed the Islamic-sponsored resolution with 80 votes in favor, 61 against and 42 abstentions. That compared with 86 votes to 53 with 42 abstentions for a similar text last year and figures of 108-51-25 in 2007, the last time the measure commanded an absolute majority of U.N. members.

The nonbinding resolution has gone through every year since it was prompted in 2005 by a row over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that appeared in a Danish newspaper, sparking bloody protests by Muslims around the world.

The seven-page text urges states to provide "adequate protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from the defamation of religions, and incitement to religious hatred in general."

It also says freedom of speech may "be subject to limitations as ... are necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others, protection of national security or of public order, public health or morals."

The only religion the resolution specifically names as a target of defamation is Islam. It deplores ethnic and religious profiling of Muslims since the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and says Islam is often and wrongly associated with terrorism.

China and Russia joined Islamic and some sub-Saharan African states in voting for the resolution, which was opposed by Western and some Latin American and small-island states.


Speaking for Islamic states, Syrian delegate Warif Halabi told the assembly that defamation of religion led to "an outright campaign of hate speech and negative stereotyping, targeting all the tenets and adherents of Islam or other religions."

"It depicts them as vicious, uncivilized and terrorists. The tool used to reach this goal is concealed under the banner of freedom of expression," she said.

No opponents of the measure spoke in Friday's assembly session. The resolution had been debated last month in an assembly committee dealing with human rights.

But Angela Wu of the Washington-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty said the resolution "provides international cover for domestic blasphemy laws that are overbroad and easy to abuse."

"The concept of 'defamation of religions' undermines the foundations of human rights law by protecting ideas instead of people, and empowering states instead of their citizens," Wu said in a statement.

In separate votes, the assembly condemned human rights violations in North Korea and Iran.

The voting closely followed that in the assembly's rights committee last month, with Saudi Arabia, which has accused Tehran of supporting Shi'ite rebels in neighboring Yemen, again breaking ranks with most other Muslim states and backing the resolution on Iran.

(Editing by Xavier Briand)

Posted Dec 18, 2009, Reuters

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