Working to promote freedom of conscience for every person, no matter who they are or where they live.

‘Religious intolerance resolution’ could backfire, says UN expert

Criminalizing speech is 'not the best route for protecting religion'


Dr. Ganoune Diop, IRLA's liaison to the United Nations, says criminalizing speech is not the route to go in protecting religion.Feb 20, 2012 ... As international diplomats signed off last year on a United Nations resolution aimed at “combating religious intolerance,” they could, in fact, have compromised one of the freedoms they sought to protect, says Dr. Ganoune Diop, the International Religious Liberty Association's representative to the United Nations.  

In part, the resolution, passed by UN General Assembly on December 19 last year, calls on UN member states to, “criminalize incitement to imminent violence based on religion or belief.”

“Our concern is not for those parts of this resolution that call on governments to do all they can to foster tolerant societies—these are worthy goals,” says Dr. Diop. “Our concern is about this particular element, which could be easily used to silence people who express views that are at odds with the dominant religion of a particular country.”

“A key question is: Who gets to decide what sort of speech will incite ‘imminent violence based on religion or belief?’” explains Dr. Diop. “The answer you get will be very different in a theocratic state, for instance, than in a country which protects religious pluralism. The vague, subjective nature of this resolution leaves it wide open to abuse by those states that already have little tolerance for dissenting religious voices.”

The resolution, known as Resolution 16/18, was introduced by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a coalition of 57 Muslim states. It follows in the footsteps of the controversial “Defamation of Religion” resolutions which have been passed by the UN since 1999. These resolutions, which sought to limit criticism or insult to Islam, lost significant support in recent years as more countries came to recognize the danger they posed to free speech and religious expression.

Dr. Diop points out that many analysts believe Resolution 16/18 is a variant of the Defamation of Religion resolutions, dressed up in different language to make it more palatable to Western nations that protect free speech.

But according to Dr. Diop, criminalizing speech is not the route to go in order to protect religion. “Rather, the international community should focus more on promoting and protecting existing international covenants that uphold the dignity of every person, and which emphasize the right of every individual to follow their conscience in matters of religion,” he says. [Bettina Krause/IRLA]