Once again belying its stated purpose of “promotion and protection of
human rights around the globe,” the United Nations Human Rights Council
passed a resolution last week straight out of George Orwell’s dystopian
novel “1984.” The measure, sponsored by Pakistan on behalf of a group
of Islamic states, employs Western-style references to “diversity,”
“interfaith harmony” and “tolerance” in defense of a decidedly
intolerant objective: a global ban on criticism of religion —
specifically, criticism of Islam.
“Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights
violations and terrorism,” states the resolution, the brainchild of the
powerful 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference. One of the
main culprits in this “Islamophobia,” the measure says, is “the print,
audio-visual and electronic media.” The solution: Governments must
“combat defamation of religions,” including “stereotyping of religions,
their adherents and sacred persons.”
Not surprisingly, Canada, Chile and the European Union nations that sit
on the Human Rights Council opposed this resolution, which they
recognized as a thinly veiled attempt to legitimize the anti-blasphemy
laws that theocratic Muslim regimes use to squelch dissent and
persecute religious minorities. Indeed, it was hard for the measure’s
supporters to argue otherwise, given that Islam was the only religion
specifically mentioned in the resolution and the list of nations
backing the measure could, with a few exceptions, double as a who’s who
of human-rights violators.
An attack on human rights couched in the language of human rights, the
“defamation of religion” resolution essentially would abolish free
speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion in any country
that adopted it. As a statement of opposition released by a diverse
coalition of 186 religious and secular non-governmental organizations
explained, the concept of “defamation of religion” has “no basis in
domestic or international law” and “would alter the very meaning of
human rights, which protect individuals from harm, but not beliefs from
The “defamation of religion” resolution is old trick at the United
Nations, where Islamic states that belong to the OIC have been passing
similar measures for a decade now. This year’s resolution is the latest
salvo in the long-running campaign of Islamist extremists to use
Western language and respect for the rule of law to subvert Western
ideals of freedom and democracy.
Their success has made the Human Rights Council an international joke.
Its forerunner, the Commission on Human Rights, was disbanded after it
became hopelessly corrupt. In 2006, the council replaced the commission
in an attempt to restore integrity to the United Nations’ top human
rights body. But the new council still lacks membership criteria to
weed out human-rights violators. So the same repressive regimes that
dominated the former commission dominate the new one, making the
council a textbook case of the fox guarding the henhouse.
Given the council’s predictable continuation of old patterns — aiding
and abetting totalitarian states and singling out Israel, a democracy,
for repeated rebukes while ignoring human-rights violations by
neighboring nations — the Bush administration refused to seek election
to the council when it was reconstituted in 2006. The Obama
administration announced Tuesday afternoon that the United States will
seek a seat on the council, though last week’s vote should have given
President Obama pause. One more nay ballot from the United States would
not prevent the passage of such measures as the “defamation of
religion” resolution, which won by a double-digit margin. Rather than
spurring reform, America’s presence on the council may only legitimize
its sham proceedings.
Genuine reform may be possible at the United Nations, but given its
record of self-correction in recent years, such renewal seems
improbable. More likely is continuation of the sorry status quo:
repeated assaults on the concept of human rights at the hands of the
very organization charged with their defense.
Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television and radio host and
St. Louis-based fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Her
website is www.colleen-campbell.com. This article first appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.