Since 1998, a U.N. resolution to universalize Islamic rules against blasphemy, introduced by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, has been annually adopted in the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, or both.
This year, however, this atrocious “Defamation of Religions” resolution appears to be a non-starter. A high-level State Department official has told me that the March 2 assassination of Pakistani minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, who had sought repeal of that country’s blasphemy law, has doomed the anti-blasphemy push in the Human Rights Council, now meeting in Geneva.
Apparently, neither Pakistan’s delegate — who frequently introduced the resolution in the past and was consistently one of its most enthusiastic supporters — nor any other OIC envoy will table it at the council’s current session.
Since 2000, the United States has opposed the resolution, which is flagrantly antithetical to the individual rights of freedom of expression and religion that the U.N. claims to uphold. For several years, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and human-rights advocates have campaigned for its defeat. Though non-binding, such resolutions are still dangerous, since they tend to seep like ground water into the decisions of international bodies and courts, as the late U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Jeane Kirkpatrick once remarked.
Even the notoriously cynical Human Rights Council, it seems, can no longer pass it with a straight face — not after Bhatti’s murder, the murder of Punjab governor Salman Taseer in January for similar reasons, and recent attacks on a variety of religious individuals and groups in Pakistan in the name of ensuring respect for Islam. The anti-defamation resolution is to be replaced by the mild though vague consensus resolution, entitled “Combating Intolerance, Negative Stereotyping and Stigmatization of, and Discrimination, Incitement to Violence, and Violence Against Persons Based on Religion or Belief.”
— Nina Shea is director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and co-author with Paul Marshall of Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide.