Defamation of religion and the United Nations  

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"In 2009, Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård, along with other non-religious artists, authors and entrepreneurs, wrote an article in Dagens Nyheter stressing the importance of secularity. The group also criticised the UN for its stance on blasphemy laws." --Sholem Stein

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Defamation of religion is an issue that was repeatedly addressed by some member states of the United Nations (UN) from 1999 until 2010. Several non-binding resolutions were voted on and accepted by the UN condemning "defamation of religion". The motions, sponsored on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), now known as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, sought to prohibit expression that would "fuel discrimination, extremism and misperception leading to polarization and fragmentation with dangerous unintended and unforeseen consequences". Religious groups, human rights activists, free-speech activists, and several countries in the West condemned the resolutions arguing they amounted to an international blasphemy law. Critics of the resolutions including human rights groups argued that they were used to politically strengthen domestic anti-blasphemy and religious defamation laws, which are used to imprison journalists, students and other peaceful political dissidents.

From 2001 to 2010 there was a split of opinions, with the Islamic bloc and much of the developing world supporting the defamation of religion resolutions, and mostly Western democracies opposing them. Support waned toward the end of the period due to increased opposition from the West along with lobbying by religious, free-speech, and human rights advocacy groups. Some countries in Africa, the Pacific, and Latin America switched from supporting to abstaining, or from abstaining to opposing. The final "defamation of religions" resolution in 2010, which also condemned "the ban on the construction of minarets of mosques" four months after a Swiss referendum introduced such a ban, passed with only 20 supporting, 17 opposing, and 8 abstaining.

In 2011, with falling support for the defamation of religion approach, the OIC changed their approach and introduced a new resolution on "Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based on religion or belief" that received unanimous support.

The UN Human Rights Committee followed this in July 2011 with the adoption of General Comment 34 on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 1976 that binds signatory countries. Concerning freedoms of opinion and expression, General Comment 34 made it clear that "Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant". General Comment 34 makes it clear that countries with blasphemy laws in any form that have signed the ICCPR are in breach of their obligations under the ICCPR.

See also

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