The United Nations General Assembly has adopted a resolution to combat intolerance, discrimination and violence on the grounds of religion or belief, declaring these actions a violation of human rights.
The resolution was prepared by the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which had won majority approval in UN rights bodies in Geneva and at the UN General Assembly for annual resolutions on “combating defamation of religions” since 1998.
The call on countries to prohibit “defamation” had been included in a non-binding resolution on combating religious intolerance passed annually by the 193-nation assembly. The resolution, approved on Monday, also expressed concern about the incitement to religious hatred and the failure of some states “to combat this burgeoning trend.”
In the resolution, OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu's call for religious peace was covered. In his call, İhsanoğlu asks governments to identify potential areas of tension between communities with different religions and faiths and to serve as a peacemaker between them. He suggests developing strategies against discrimination on the grounds of religion and faith and making it a crime to encourage violence on the basis of religion and faith.
For the first time in more than a decade, the UN General Assembly on Monday condemned religious intolerance without urging states to outlaw “defamation of religions.”
The General Assembly adopted the resolution by consensus without a vote. The versions passed in previous years had enjoyed increasingly less support in assembly votes due to Western and Latin American opposition to the “defamation” idea. The resolution barely received a majority of yes votes in 2010.
The New York-based rights group Human Rights First welcomed the resolution prior to its adoption, describing the new version as “a decisive break from the polarizing focus in the past on defamation of religions.”
“Governments should now focus on concrete measures to fight religiously motivated violence, discrimination and other forms of intolerance, while recognizing the importance of freedom of expression,” Human Rights First's Tad Stahnke said.
Earlier this year Western countries and their Latin American allies joined Muslim and African states in backing a new approach that switched the focus from protecting beliefs to protecting believers. That new approach led to Monday's resolution.
OIC Permanent Observer to the United Nations Ufuk Gökçen told the Anatolia news agency that the adoption of the resolution is proof that a “diplomatic cold war between the Western nations and Islamic countries on the platform of the UN” has ended and a new era for cooperation has started. He said the OIC's resolution on religious tolerance was wrongly reflected in the US and European media as if Islamic nations were opposed to freedom of expression.