The Voice of the Martyrs (Canada) has joined a coalition of over 100 Christian, Muslim and Jewish organisations as well as humanist and secular groups from around the world in signing a common civil society statement against the concept of “defamation of religions.” The statement was drafted due to the ongoing “Combating Defamation of Religion” agenda at the United Nations and a concern that a new, legally-binding international treaty limiting the criticism of religion may become a reality.
This concern arose as Syria, on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), along with Belarus and Venezuela, proposed on October 29 a General Assembly resolution “combating defamation of religions.” While similar, non-binding resolutions have been passed in previous years, this year, for the first time, a UN body proposed a binding treaty to combat “defamation of religions.” At meeting in Geneva that concluded on October 30th, Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC) and Nigeria, (on behalf of the Africa Group) proposed a binding treaty amendment to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), an existing international treaty on racism.
The Voice of the Martyrs opposes such resolutions and amendments on the premise that it is individuals who have rights, not ideas, governments or religions. To extend such protection beyond individual human rights jeopardises the fundamental right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of expression on religious subjects. Such resolutions against the defamation of religions, even when nonbinding, have already provided international cover for domestic anti-blasphemy laws in countries like Pakistan where these laws are used to persecute Christians and other religious minorities under the guise of protecting Islam from defamation. A legally binding treaty would almost certainly lead to other Islamic countries, in particular, passing similar domestic laws as a “human rights” requirement and could conceivably been used to support legal action against individuals and organizations in Western countries with the intent to suppress criticism (real or perceived) of Islam.
We encourage you to contact Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, John McNee, and encourage him to support Canada’s opposition to any defamation of religions resolutions and any attempt to extend the concept into binding treaties such as ICERD (for the contact information for UN embassies of other countries, click here). A preliminary vote on the General Assembly resolution is expected before the end of November with a final plenary vote expected in early to mid-December.
(Note: The United States Commission on International Freedom has published an excellent policy focus on explaining the problems with the idea that religions should be protected from "defamation." Please click here to download copy of this paper)