The defamation of religion resolutions pushed by Islamic nations for the past 12 years have been put aside by the United Nations. The UN Human Rights Council has instead backed a resolution which will promote religious tolerance.

The new resolution focuses on protecting the rights of individuals rather than protecting religions. On the one hand it recognises the right to freedom of religion and the need to respect religious minorities. On the other hand it acknowledges the importance of freedom of expression and of opinion, allowing for open public debate on religious issues, rather than punishing individuals for expressing minority opinions.

ACL has blogged on this issue before, encouraging people to support the Free to Believe campaign organised by Open Doors. Their petition received over 428,000 signatures from more than 70 countries, including 27,000 from Australia.

The defamation of religion resolution was ostensibly designed to combat “negative stereotyping of all religions” and the “growing trend of Islamophobia”, but there has been concerns in the Christian community that the resolution would serve to lend “international legitimacy to criminal penalties against people who exercise their freedom of worship”. The resolution would, in effect, condone and promote laws which ban any religious criticism, including the harsh blasphemy laws which are used to persecute religious minorities, primarily Christians in majority Muslim countries such as Pakistan and Iran.

The new resolution, drafted by delegates from Pakistan and the United States, combats “intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief”. It focuses on protecting  the rights of individuals rather than protecting religions, and recognises both the right to freedom of religion and the right to freedom of speech and expression.

While ACL welcomes the move away from the defamation resolution, Christians should continue to watch this issue, as some Islamic countries have said they will resume their push for banning religious defamation “if Western countries are not seen as acting to protect believers”.

The new resolution has the backing of the Western and Latin American nations who had opposed the defamation resolution, and also from the African and Islamic nations who were pushing it. Two reports from Reuters can be found here and here.