UN rights body narrowly passes Islamophobia resolution

by Hui Min Neo, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 26 2010 02:03 AM | Updated as of Mar 26 2010 10:03 AM

GENEVA, Switzerland - The UN Human Rights Council on Thursday narrowly passed a resolution condemning Islamophobic behaviour, including Switzerland's minaret building ban, despite some states' major reservations.

The resolution, which was criticised by the United States as "an instrument of division", "strongly condemns... the ban on the construction of minarets of mosques and other recent discriminatory measures."

In a November referendum Swiss citizens voted to ban the construction of new minarets, a move that drew criticisms worldwide.

Such measures "are manifestations of Islamophobia that stand in sharp contradiction to international human rights obligations concerning freedoms of religions," said the resolution.

Such acts would "fuel discrimination, extremism and misperception leading to polarization and fragmentation with dangerous unintended and unforeseen consequences," it charged.

Some 20 countries voted in favour of the resolution entitled "combating defamation of religions", 17 voted against and eight abstained.

The resolution also "expresses deep concern ... that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism."

It "regrets the laws or administrative measures specifically designed to control and monitor Muslim minorities, thereby stigmatising them and legitimising the discrimination they experience."

Putting forward the resolution on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Pakistan's ambassador Zamir Akram said that the specific references to Islam, the only religion mentioned in the text, "reflect the existing regrettable situation in some parts of the world where Muslims are being targeted."

Babacar Ba, who represents the OIC in Geneva, also told reporters that the resolution was a "way to reaffirm once again our condemnation of the decision to ban construction of minarets in Switzerland."

"This initiative breaches religious freedom and rights of Muslims to build their places of worship as they wish to," he added.

But while all countries agreed on the need to combat religious discrimination, debate on the resolution was intense as some were against the resolution on fears that it could be used to curb freedom of expression.

Mexico for instance said it was against the resolution as "part of its orientation touches upon political and social principles" which were against principles of the freedom of expression and the question of secularism.

The European Union also pointed out that the concept of defamation should not fall under the remit of human rights because it conflicted with the right to freedom of expression, while the United States said free speech could be hindered by the resolution.

"The European Union believes that reconciling the notion of defamation with discrimination is a problematic endeavour," French ambassador Jean-Baptiste Mattei said on behalf of the bloc.

Eileen Donahoe, US ambassador to the UN, also slammed the resolution as an "ineffective way to address" concerns about discrimination.

"We cannot agree that prohibiting speech is the way to promote tolerance, because we continue to see the 'defamation of religions' concept used to justify censorship, criminalisation, and in some cases violent assaults and deaths of political, racial, and religious minorities around the world," she said.

"Contrary to the intentions of most member states, governments are likely to abuse the rights of individuals in the name of this resolution, and in the name of the Human Rights Council," added the US envoy.