USCIRF Chair Leonard A Leo testified to Members of Congress on the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission that although the resolutions proposed by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference sounded “tolerant and progressive”, they would in reality "exacerbate” religious persecution and discrimination around the world.
“Although the ‘defamation’ resolutions purport to protect religions generally, the only religion and religious adherents that are specifically mentioned are Islam and Muslims,” pointed out Leo, who noted USCIRF has been closely monitoring the resolutions for several years.
“Aside from Islam, the resolutions do not specify which religions are deserving of protection, or explain how or by whom this would be determined.”
Out of concern that the resolutions would be abused to oppress religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries, Christian as well as secular human rights groups launched several campaigns this year alerting UN members to the potential danger of such proposals.
Open Doors, a ministry that works with persecuted Christians, launched an advocacy campaign earlier this month aimed at preventing the resolutions from passing at the United Nations. The ministry is lobbying key countries that will vote on the resolutions and organising a petition drive against the proposal.
And back in March, more than 180 non-government organisations from around the world signed a petition urging the UN Human Rights Council not to adopt the resolutions. Despite their efforts, however, the resolutions passed. The NGOs participating in the petition voiced concern that the resolutions would be manipulated to justify anti-blasphemy laws and intimidate human rights activists and religious dissenters.
Since 1999, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference has annually sponsored the "defamation of religions" resolutions in the UN Human Rights Council, its predecessor, and, since 2005, in the General Assembly.
The resolutions are currently non-binding, but OIC has publicly stated that its goal is for the UN to adopt a binding international covenant against the “defamation of religions”.
Mr Leo denounced the resolutions as a “poorly veiled attempt to export the repressive blasphemy laws found in some OIC countries to the international level”.
“Under these laws, criminal charges can be levied against individuals for defaming, denigrating, insulting, offending, disparaging, and blaspheming Islam, often resulting in gross human rights violations,” said the religious freedom expert.
USCIRF is among the many groups that have spoken against the resolutions. Other groups include The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Freedom House, UN Watch, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and Open Doors USA.
The “defamation of religions” resolutions are expected to be formally proposed for renewal by OIC next month or later this year.