Shifting U.N. Language Threatens U.S. Free Speech
by Daniel E. Rogell • May 21, 2012 at 12:49 pm
The body representing the world's Muslim nations, the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), has shifted its strategy for limiting free speech about Islam before the United Nations Human Rights Council. A move away from language about limiting "defamation of religions" and toward preventing "religious hatred," has "easily duped" the West into adopting the OIC's agenda of limiting discussion about Islam, reports Ann Snyder for the Gatestone Institute.
The OIC pressed for "speech-restrictive" resolutions on religion in U.N. forums for more than a decade. Ratification of these U.N. resolutions would have internationalized anti-blasphemy laws found in Muslim-majority countries.
Western nations resisted such attempts, arguing that the laws criminalized free speech. The move could also result in international prosecution of Westerners for criticizing practices by some Islamists, just as similar laws have been used against Middle East Christians.
The OIC adjusted its strategy accordingly, but not its goal. It dropped calls to criminalize the "defamation of religions" and now relies on interpreting pre-existing language in the U.N.'s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR], Article 20(2). The United States Senate ratified the ICCPR in 1992 but with an explicit reservation against the article, which would have made "any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred…prohibited by law."
The new U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 "condemns any advocacy of religious hatred against individuals that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence" using "print, audio-visual or electronic media or any other means." It "bears a striking resemblance" to new legal restrictions on "hate speech" in Europe that has been used to prosecute alleged offenders, writes Snyder, a senior fellow at the Middle East Forum's The Legal Project.
Despite the obvious similarities of language and implementation, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "applauded" the compromise and described the efforts as beginning "to overcome the false divide that pits religious sensitivities against freedom of expression."