IHEU success as Islamic States finally drop their case for ‘defamation of religion’ UN resolution

1 April, 2011

After a twelve year campaign to have religion regarded as a subject to be protected from ‘defamation’, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) have finally appeared to back down, in response to successful opposition by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and other NGOs. In a change from previous years, the new resolution calls for protection of believers, not the beliefs themselves.

The OIC have long attempted to prevent religion from being subjected to criticism, using the argument that to hear religion critiqued can cause offence to believers. Critics of this position have continually highlighted the damaging effect such a resolution would have on free speech around the world, noting that such a resolution would seriously impede any genuine, and important, discussion of the world’s religions.

This change to the resolution is the achievement of a long campaign by the IHEU (to which the BHA is affiliated), who, having begun their battle in 2004 by first highlighting the dangers of the resolution proposed by the OIC, have fought tirelessly to oppose this resolution ever since. Actions included getting written support for opposition from over 200 civil society organizations from 46 countries 2009, and it was the IHEU’s Jack Jeffery who proposed an alternative to the resolution by suggesting that consensus could be achieved if reasons for incitement and hatred were broadened. It was this version of the resolution which was eventually tabled, signalling a major success for the IHEU campaign.

The BHA is cautiously optimistic about this development, as although focus of the resolution has shifted from protection of beliefs to protection of believers, it specifies protection against hatred and violence for religious believers, without specifying protection for those of non-religious views.

Of additional concern is a comment reported by Reuters that some Islamic countries have warned this is not necessarily the end of the issue. If Western countries are not seen to be protecting religious believers, it has been suggested that they will restart their campaign.

BHA Chief Executive, Andrew Copson, commented, ‘We are very pleased to see that the outrageous defamation of religion resolution has finally been stopped, and that the Human Rights Council is now looking at adopting a resolution which respects the ‘individual’ and not the ‘idea’. However, we should remain cautious, as there is no protection highlighted in the resolution for non-believers and it is questionable whether this resolution goes far enough to protect all people against violence for any reason whatsoever.’


For further comment or information, contact Andrew Copson on andrew@humanists.uk  or on 07534 248596.

Find further information on the full IHEU press release, and BHA’s work on International Free Speech.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.