Several weeks ago we wrote on the ACL blog encouraging people to sign a petition in support of religious freedom that was organised by Open Doors, an international organisation working with persecuted Christians and operating in over 65 countries across the globe.

The international petition, which asks the General Assembly of the United Nations not to pass the ‘defamation of religions resolution’, was recently presented to the UN’s assistant secretary general for human rights, Ivan Simonovic (see video here). The petition received over 428,000 signatures from people in more than 70 countries, including 27,000 Australians.

The defamation of religions resolution is a proposal that has been promoted internationally by the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), an organisation of 57 countries with significant Muslim populations, since 1999.

The resolution seeks to criminalise words or actions deemed to be against another religion, especially against Islam. If passed it would give international legitimacy to national laws that punish blasphemy or otherwise ban criticism of a religion. This would have a significant impact on freedom of religion for religious minorities in majority Muslim countries.

Despite dwindling support for the resolution in the UN’s Third Committee this year compared to last year, in what is the last step before going to the General Assembly, there are serious fears that the defamation of religions resolution will soon pass the General Assembly with a high number of abstentions.

According to a media report, Australia voted ‘no’ at the recent final committee, “but has equivocated in comparison with Britain, the US and New Zealand”. Further, “A Foreign Affairs Department spokesman . . . declined to guarantee that it would vote no in the General Assembly, saying the resolution might yet be amended”.

This is despite a letter from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, representing Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, to Open Doors stating that Australia would not support the defamation of religions resolution unless the text of the resolution is significantly improved, as previously reported on ACL’s blog.

The Age newspaper has also recently editorialised on the issue, arguing that, “Unless the resolution can be amended so that it clearly upholds rights to freedom of belief, religion and expression, Australia should oppose this potentially dangerous step towards a global blasphemy law”.

ACL, like many other organisations with a keen interest in the treatment of persecuted believers throughout the world, will continue to maintain a close watch on the outcome of the debate regarding the defamation of religions resolution at the UN. A final decision is expected in the coming week.

A recent editorial from The Washington Times on the issue is available by clicking here. For more information about Open Doors’ ‘Free to Believe’ campaign about the defamation of religions resolution, please click here.