Monday, 22 September 2008

Report on Islamic attempts to suppress free speech at the UN

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Many of you will be aware of the ongoing controversy over efforts by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), an influential organisation with 57 member states, to ensure that "religious defamation" is forbidden during discussion at the United Nations' Human Rights Council.

Many Islamic countries deem the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which turns 60 in December, unacceptable and claim to adhere instead to the 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, a document whose key free speech clause reads as follows: "Everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the shari'ah."

Every year since 1999 the OIC has succeeded in passing a resolution on "Combating the Defamation of Religions" in the Human Rights Council, and in March this year an amendment was passed which means the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression (an individual supposed to report instances where free speech is stifled in UN member states) to "report on instances in which the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination."

In the past year many non-religious organisations and Western governments have begun to wake up to what is happening, and concern has been expressed widely that the OIC are trying to introduce a prohibition against blasphemy that is sanctioned by international law. With this mind, I want to turn your attention to an important new report by Austin Dacey (whose new book we reviewed recently) and Colin Koproske, produced for the Center for Inquiry, in which they analyse the issue in detail, warning of the dangers this poses for free speech, and offer recommendations for the HRC.

For anyone new to this issue the report is well worth reading, as it tells the full story in detail and will give you a real sense of what's at stake here.

[Thanks to Ophelia sending us the report]


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