A Silver Lining at the Human Rights Council
by Daniel Huff • Mar 26, 2010 at 3:30 pm
The votes are in on the Organization of the Islamic Conference's annual "defamation of religions" resolution, and for nations that value free speech, there is victory even in defeat.
On March 25th, the UN Human Rights Council passed the resolution, which essentially calls on nations to restrict free speech regarding Islam under the guise of fighting intolerance and promoting "human dignity." This is not news. The OIC has sponsored and pushed to passage nearly identical text for the last decade.
The exciting news lies in the vote count. Last year's resolution passed by a vote of 23-11 with 13 nations abstaining; this year the gap narrowed to 20-17, with a mere eight abstentions. The drop in abstentions is key and suggests that member states are finally awakening to the looming danger these resolutions pose to free expression.
In particular, five nations (Argentina, Mexico, South Korea, Uruguay and Zambia) that had previously abstained actively opposed this year's measure with a "no" vote. Rather than remain passive and curry favor with the OIC, these countries resisted the OIC's effort to undermine the international community's commitment to free speech.
The dramatic shift was aided by a series of efforts by non-governmental organizations from across the political spectrum. In March and November of 2009, over 130 NGOs (including the Legal Project) signed a pair of joint statements warning that banning "defamation of religion" was incompatible with free speech rights. The campaign culminated with a coordinated last minute lobbying push calling on countries to actively oppose the resolution.
The vote breakdown also undercuts the OIC's claim that the resolution represents a global consensus. Of the 20 nations who voted for the resolution, 13 are members of the OIC. Another six are members of the G-77, a UN voting bloc in which the OIC holds great sway.
The next battleground will be New York, where the resolution will be presented to the General Assembly for a plenary vote in the fall. With the momentum building against the OIC and its voting allies, there is reason to believe that the decade-long OIC campaign is finally faltering in the face of a true international consensus.
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