The Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) has dropped its attempts to ban defamation of religions, allowing the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to pass a resolution that prioritizes freedom of expression over prevention of blasphemy. (Or as we call it here, hurting religious feelings.)
In place of the divisive “combating defamation of religions” resolution, today the UN Human Rights Council adopted a consensus resolution on “combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief.” The resolution properly focuses on protecting individuals from discrimination or violence, instead of protecting religions from criticism. The resolution protects the adherents of all religions or beliefs, instead of focusing on one religion. Unlike the defamation of religions resolution, the new consensus resolution does not call for legal restrictions on peaceful expression, but rather, for positive measures, such as education and awareness-building, to address intolerance, discrimination, and violence based on religion or belief.
For more than a decade, the OIC has been trying to influence governments into adopting resolutions that would lead to blasphemy laws. In 2010, they proposed a resolution entitled “Combating defamation of religions.” The UNHRC passed the resolution, but it was a close call. 20 voted in favor, 17 voted against, 8 abstained, and 2 were absent.
This was an improvement over the results of similar debates from previous years, but it wasn’t enough. The 2010 resolution influenced Pakistan to implement a blasphemy law that fostered bigotry, intolerance, and violence among its citizens. And early this year, it cost two men their lives.
Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Batti died fighting for religious freedom and freedom of expression. But their deaths were not in vain. The religious fanaticism shown by their murderers and those who thought this violence was justified served as a warning to the members of this year’s UNHRC. These murders, together with the division caused by heated debates on the issue from previous years, led the council to unanimously pass a resolution affirming human rights, calling for “a global dialogue for the promotion of a culture of tolerance and peace at all levels, based on respect for human rights and diversity of religions and beliefs.”
The UNHRC has finally realized that individuals, not ideals, are worthy of respect and protection. I hope that Pakistan and the other members of the OIC follow suit and eliminate all blasphemy laws for good.