Curious Correlations in the Vote on U.N. Human Rights Council’s Resolution 10/22: Combating Defamation of Religions

On March 26, 2009, the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted Resolution 10/22, Combating Defamation of Religions.

Resolution 10/22 would at first appear to be supportive of human rights and freedom of religion. It deplores “negative stereotyping of religion” and “manifestations of intolerance and discrimination in matters of religion or belief.” All well and good, right? No one should have to suffer intolerance, discrimination, or violence because of their beliefs, religious or otherwise.

The problem with this resolution is that it makes no distinction between beliefs and the people who hold them. Its intent is not only to protect the adherents of certain beliefs but also to protect those beliefs themselves from ridicule, defamation, or even critical scrutiny. An important principle of open societies has been violated in this resolution: “People deserve respect. Ideas do not.”

At what point does critical scrutiny become blasphemy? The answer depends on the sensitivities of the believer. In many countries, any criticism of the reigning ideology can lead to imprisonment or even death. In recent years, depictions of the prophet Mohammad have provoked rioting, violent assaults, and fatwas. (See my story on Kurt Westergaard.)

Resolution 10/22 specifically cites defamation of Islam seven times, but never mentions Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, or any other religion. It expresses “deep concern” that Islam is frequently associated with human rights violations and terrorism, and it deplores the targeting of religious symbols and venerated persons (e.g., Mohammad) in the print, audio-visual, and electronic media.

Though Resolution 10/22 is non-binding (at least for now), it still casts a heavy shadow on countries that are dependent on United Nations aid programs.  

This post is the first in a series where I will explore the implications of this resolution. For starters, I’ve gathered some data on the human rights records of countries that voted on the resolution (The vote was 23 to 11, with 13 abstentions.)

I consulted Freedom House to find 2009 human rights scores for all the countries that voted. (2009 was the year of the vote.)  I then color-coded these countries (blue = “against,” and pink = “in favor”) and sorted them three times—for political rights, civil liberties, and freedom of expression.

The results show that those countries supporting the resolution have low scores in political rights, civil liberties, or freedom of expression. (Note a source of possible confusion in these scores: Freedom House assigns highest numerical scores for best records in some categories and for worst records in others.) The results show that countries with the best human rights records were opposed to the resolution. The groupings are amazingly well-defined, with only Ukraine straying slightly outside its color block in the tables.


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