March 25, 2011 – New York – AJC welcomed the UN Human Rights Council resolution recognizing the importance of public debate and interfaith dialogue in combating religious intolerance.
The measure, adopted by consensus yesterday in Geneva, represents a sea change from previous resolutions that advocated banning criticism of religions in the name of promoting tolerance.
“The UN Human Rights Council measure is a major step away from the pernicious ‘defamation of religions’ proposal that was previously sought by many Muslim countries,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “Their goal had been to justify blasphemy laws and other restrictions on speech thought to denigrate Islam.”
“We appreciate the leadership of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who personally called on the Council’s member states to move beyond their 12-year effort to ban insults to religion and to pursue an alternative, constructive approach to intolerance,” said Harris.
In recent years, AJC criticized the “defamation of religions” proposal. “While the original resolution purported to ‘combat defamation of religions,’ in reality it would have stifled valid scrutiny of radical Islam and condoned intimidation as a response to insensitive speech,” said Harris. “In a free society, no belief system should be immune from criticism.”
The UNHRC resolution adopted yesterday makes no mention of “defamation,” condemns only denigration of individuals, rather than ideas, and calls for states to take non-legal measures like education and awareness-building to combat religious intolerance, urging criminalization only in the case of “incitement to imminent violence.
“Endorsing respect for freedom of religion is in line with the stated mission of the Human Rights Council’s mission, to protect individuals worldwide,” said Harris.