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Geneva. By a vote of 85 to 50, with 42 abstaining, the UN General Assembly today adopted a draft resolution calling on all countries to alter their legal and constitutional systems to prevent "defamation of religions," asserting that "Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism."
The decision, sponsored by Islamic states with the support of Venezuela and Belarus, drew immediate protests from human rights activists and legal experts.
"This is just the latest shot in an intensifying campaign of UN resolutions that dangerously seek to import Islamic anti-blasphemy prohibitions into the discourse of international human rights law," said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, an indpendent human rights monitoring group in Geneva.
"Human rights were designed to protect individuals -- to guarantee every person free speech and free exercise of religion -- but most certainly not to shield any set of beliefs, religion included."
"These resolutions legitimize the criminalization of free speech in countries like Sudan, Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia," said Neuer. "Muslim moderates, bloggers, women seeking basic freedoms -- all of these will be the first to suffer from the worsening climate of state repression in the name of state-supported Islamic orthodoxy."
"No less is today's enactment aimed at the Western world, to intimidate anyone from criticizing radical Islam and those who commit violence in its name," said Neuer.
Proponents of free speech celebrated one small victory, however.
Successful campaigning by an international human rights coalition, including the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and UN Watch, led to a decline in support for the resolution compared to last year's vote, which had garnered 108 in support, 51 against, and 25 abstentions.
The proposed draft declaration for the UN's April 2009 "Durban II" conference on racism includes numerous provisions on the "defamation" of Islam. Denmark has threatened to walk out if they are included.
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