Defamation of Religion

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    • 00:10

      ROSA FREEDMAN: I'm Rosa Freedman.I'm a senior lecturer at Birmingham Law School,University of Birmingham.I'm a scholar who focuses on the law and politics of the UnitedNations.I write extensively for academic journals and for the media.And I focus on the United Nations and human rights.My book on the UN Human Rights Council

    • 00:30

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: was the first one to examine, explain, and assess that body.My second book, Failing to Protect,gives an accessible overview of how and why the United Nationshuman rights machinery is unable fully to protect human rights.My current research focuses on UN peacekeeping operations

    • 00:51

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: and human rights abuses, particularlyaccountability issues.This case study will focus on how political blocks usethe United Nations bodies to further their own agendas.I will focus on the issue of defamation of religion,and how Islamic countries have triedto use UN bodies to enshrine that as a human right,

    • 01:15

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: despite it violating fundamental rights and freedoms.The aim of the case study is to explore how groups of statescan and do use the UN to advance objectives that underminerather than strengthen the UN's work.The example used is not representativeof the UN's work, but is representative of the politics

    • 01:40

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: and processes involved.In this example, those politics and processes are magnified.And therefore it provides a clear exampleof the types that are involved in most UN activities.Member states use the UN as an arenafor promoting group ideologies and to push

    • 02:01

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: for or against a particular issuethat has national, regional, or political capital.The United Nations is divided into fiveofficial regional groups.That encourages entrenched positions.

    • 02:23

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: And those groups significantly contributeto the politicization of UN bodies.In order to further their connective objectivesor to protect a member's interests,regional groups often adopt bloc tactics to further their aims.These include voting together en masse

    • 02:44

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: and repeating statements that havebeen made on behalf of the regional group,in order to emphasize the internally negotiated position.The system encourages countries to lobby one another,internally within the regional group, and externally, usingthe group's power as a bargaining tool.

    • 03:04

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: Often, countries or groups will trade supportfor unrelated matters in order to ensure supportfor their own objectives, thus undermining the UN's mandateand work.Regional groups are also adept at protecting their members,even when they're doing things that ought to be criticizedand when action ought to be taken.

    • 03:27

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: The imperfect system of regional groupsis then compounded by political alliances.Countries cannot be told not to have alliances with states fromother regions.Geographic location is not the only factorin determining countries' natural groupings.Religion, forms of governance, and political outlook

    • 03:48

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: are also common bonds between countries.Those blocs have become increasingly important, perhapseven as important as regional groups,because they allow countries to flex their connective musclesin order to achieve joint objectives.The Organization of Islamic Cooperation

    • 04:09

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: is a political bloc based upon the common bond of religion.Islamic countries from across Asia, Africa,and Eastern Europe have much in common with one another.Often they share more political aims with one anotherthan they do with their regional neighbors.The Organization of Islamic Cooperationspans three of the UN's five regional groups,

    • 04:32

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: and it has allies in Latin Americaand the Caribbean group.It is the most powerful of all the political blocs.Not only does it have strength in numbers,with more than 50 member states, but many countrieswithin the bloc also have significant economic, military,or political power.The OIC typically operates as a bloc

    • 04:55

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: in promoting is collective aims and shielding its memberstates.The OIC usually votes en masse and itflexes its collective muscle.Other political blocs and regional groupsare then reluctant to oppose the OIC, because doing socould result in a sizable oppositionto any unrelated initiative that they might propose.

    • 05:19

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: The OIC has tried to use UN human rightsbodies to enshrine a new human right to nothave one's religion defamed.That issue is one that affects all OIC membersand is a main objective of the national, regional,and international levels.That so-called right would directlycontravene the established fundamental rights

    • 05:41

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: to freedom of expression, to religion and belief,and to equality.It would also be used to justify national blasphemylaws within many OIC members that are used to imprison,torture, or execute people.

    • 06:04

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: First, we must understand what defamation of religion is.This is an issue that has dominated media headlinesaround the world over the past decade.In 2005, a Danish cartoonist depicted the prophet Muhammadin cartoons that were re-publishedin Norway the following year.Protests across the Middle East included violence

    • 06:26

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: against embassies and led to newspapers in France,Germany, Italy, and Spain reprinting the cartoonsin solidarity with their European allies.Since then, a number of Western media outlets, most prominentlyand notably the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Francehave continued to publish political satirical cartoons

    • 06:48

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: in which the prophet Muhammad is depicted.And there has continued to be violence, includingarmed attacks, arson, and murder perpetratedagainst those institutions, against embassies of their homecountries, and against individuals whowork for those media outlets.But what is all the fuss about?

    • 07:09

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: In Islam, it is considered a sin for Muslimsto depict the prophet Muhammad in visual form,whether through pictures, films, or other media,because it is akin to making a graven image.But crucially, it is considered blasphemous for anyone, Muslimor non-Muslim, to depict the prophet Muhammad in a way that

    • 07:31

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: is vulgar or offensive.That all seems relatively simple.But the problem is that Islam is a religion whoselaws are only binding upon its followersor upon individuals who live in a country that enshrinesthose rules in national law.The rules on defamation of religion,whether through depictions of Muhammad

    • 07:51

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: or other forms of blasphemy in Islamic laws,are not international laws.Indeed, international law says something very differentabout depictions of religious figures or discussionsof religion in general.Under international law, there are fundamental rightsgiven to all persons by virtue of them being human.

    • 08:11

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: And those rights include freedom of expression,freedom of religion and belief, and equality.And when those international laws are taken into account,it becomes clear why there has been such a longstanding battleover whether there can ever be a right notto have one's religion defamed when such a right would violatethose three existing enshrined human rights.

    • 08:35

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: This case study will not focus on the rights or wrongsof both arguments, although I willexpect students to have formed their own opinionsby the end of the film.Instead, we will explore the waysin which states, regional groups, and political blocshave used UN human rights bodies to advance or repelthe idea of defamation of religion as a human right,

    • 08:57

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: their motivations for doing so and the wider repercussionsof that ideological battle.The United Nations is an international organization thatis state-led and state-run.The UN cannot be separated from its members.

    • 09:19

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: It does not exist other than to serveas an arena for those same countriesthat it seeks to control.The United Nations is financed and led by countries,meaning that they hold the power, even if not the control.Although the UN Secretariat consists of paid employees,it is the member states that pay the wagesand provide the job descriptions.

    • 09:40

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: Ultimately, when we talk of the UN,we're talking about the collective will of its members.This is important, because there's a misconceptionthat the UN can take action, whereas the reality isthat states determine whether action is taken.The Universal Declaration of Human Rightswas adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948.

    • 10:03

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: That birth, and the early decadesof the modern era of human rights,largely were dominated by countriesfrom the global North.Human rights were loosely dividedinto two categories, drawn according to the Cold Warboundaries-- civil and political rights,representing the West, and economic, social,and cultural rights representing the East.

    • 10:25

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: Until the end of the Cold War, development of human rightslargely remained wedded to those two ideological boundaries.Many former colonial countries and other economicallyand politically weaker states had neither the voicenor the clout to push for their own ideological perspectiveson human rights.

    • 10:47

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: In recent decades, however, there'sbeen a significant push for international human rightslaw to become representative of other ideologies,particularly those whose voices were not representedin the early decades.That movement has at times been purest in its motives.For example, bringing environmental or financialissues into the human rights arena.

    • 11:09

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: But it has also caused significant problemswhere states or groups of countriesuse it to promote so-called rights that violateexisting fundamental freedoms.Defamation of religion is one particularlypernicious example, but there areothers, such as the right of so-called traditional families,

    • 11:30

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: which is an attempt by a sizable minority of states to push backagainst the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgenderpersons, not least because those 70-plus countries stillcriminalize homosexuality and transgender to greaterand lesser extents.

    • 11:54

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: There are different ways to createinternational human rights law.It can occur through a new treaty being negotiated,which takes many years, if not decades,and requires countries to then consentto be bound by that treaty.Another method is to extend or develop existing human rightslaws, for example, through reading a right

    • 12:15

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: into an existing list of rights within a convention.A third way is to create sufficient soft law, whichis non-binding instruments like resolutions, decisions,and declarations, to show that the right has become partof customary international law.It is obvious that many countries

    • 12:36

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: would refuse to accept to be bound by a treaty on defamationof religion.And so creating a new treaty woulddo little to advance this so-called rightbeyond those countries that already accepted as one.So the promoters of this right soughtto use the other two tactics, eitherto read the so-called right into an existing treaty,

    • 12:58

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: or to create sufficient soft law instruments.It is crucial to understand that the Organization of IslamicCooperation is behind the push for this rightand that it holds a longstanding objective

    • 13:19

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: to secure universal acceptance of the notionthat human rights law both permits and requires countriesto prohibit religious insult and blasphemy as criminal offenses.The OIC has spent more than 15 yearsseeking to use the UN human rights machinery to protect

    • 13:40

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: religion from being defamed.OIC member states sponsored and pushed resolutionson defamation of religion using political capital that theyheld with their regional allies, or with statesthat relied on OIC members for oil, trade,or other unrelated matters.Adopting a post-colonial discourse also

    • 14:01

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: helped them to garner votes.They appealed to former colonial statesto assist in changing the nature of international human rightslaw to reflect ideologies that aredifferent to the typical Cold War, East/West dominant voices.Although the OIC members deployed a range of tacticsto ensure that sufficient votes were gatheredto pass these resolutions, they also

    • 14:23

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: met opposition from states that were concerned about the impactthat such a right would have on existing fundamental humanrights and freedoms.Blasphemy law in countries like Pakistanhave been used to violate the rights of minorities,the right to freedom of religion and to expression,the right to freedom from torture,

    • 14:44

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: and indeed the right to life.Enshrining a right to not have one's religion defamedwould not only serve as justificationfor national blasphemy laws that are used to abuse basic rights,but we also curb those rights in other non-Islamic countries.

    • 15:10

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: The defamation of religions initiativefirst appeared in an intergovernmental resolutionat the United Nations in 1999.Pakistan, acting on behalf of the OIC,proposed a resolution at the UN Commissionon Human Rights entitled, "Defamation of Religions."

    • 15:30

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: The resolution suggested that negative stereotyping of Islamwas the reason for acts of violence and discriminationagainst Muslim people.And it called on states to "combat hatred, discrimination,intolerance, and acts of violence, intimidation,and coercion motivated by religious intolerance."

    • 15:53

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: Resolutions are not legally binding on states.But they do provide a soft law instrumentthat can be used to demonstrate world opinion.When there are lots of resolutionsor other soft law instruments on a topic,there's a stronger argument that there'sgeneral acceptance of the substance of those resolutions.It is far easier to create soft law at bodies

    • 16:15

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: where the OIC has many of its members or alliessitting at the table.So it chose the human rights machinery,because the OIC knew that it couldgarner sufficient votes to support these soft lawinstruments.After 1999, the OIC annually introduced resolutionson defamations of religions in the Commission on Human Rights

    • 16:37

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: and then in its successor body, the Human Rights Council.In 2005, after the Danish cartoons depicting the prophetMuhammad, the OIC began to propose those same resolutionsat the UN General Assembly, as well as at the UN's main humanrights body.Other attempts to create a strong corpus of soft law

    • 16:59

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: included the 2001 World Conferenceon Racism, held in Durban, South Africa,which called for complimentary international standardson intolerance.That was followed in 2006 by the Human Rights Council,creating an Ad Hoc Committee on the Elaborationof Complimentary Standards.

    • 17:20

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: But creating soft law in itself was notgoing to be sufficient to promote this so-called right.The OIC also took steps to demonstratethe defamation of religion might be a conceptunknown in international human rights law,but could be understood to violate existing rights.In that way, they tried to appeal to non-Islamic states

    • 17:41

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: to support their cause.They pointed first to the broad prohibitionson racist speech contained in the International Conventionon the elimination of racial discrimination.And they tried to extend them to include religious intolerance.That would have led to reading defamation of religioninto a treaty on racial discrimination, something that

    • 18:02

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: is radical when thinking about the difference between raceand religion.From 2009, and seeing that their other tactics were not working,the OIC also focused on the International Covenanton Civil and Political Rights, specificallyArticle 19, which guarantees the right to freedom of opinionand expression, and Article 20, which

    • 18:23

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: prohibits "advocacy of religious hatredthat constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility,or violence.The OIC introduced numerous referencesto the concept of incitement to hatred in its defamationof religions resolutions.In 2010, the resolution have 14 references

    • 18:44

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: to incitement, eight of which specifically referredto incitement to hatred.Of course, those initiatives soughtto curb fundamental rights to freedom of expression,to religion, to equality, and in countries with blasphemy laws,

    • 19:06

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: to the freedom from torture and to life.Many states, particularly from the global Northand from Latin America were concernedabout the OIC trying to use a back door route to undermineexisting rights and freedoms.Those countries combined their strength and influenceto block the OIC's attempts to enshrine this so-called right.

    • 19:29

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: A concerted effort was made to push backagainst the OIC's initiative and wasled by the US, European states, Latin American countries,and the UN's human rights staff.Those states used diplomacy behind the scenes,tactical voting within UN bodies,and cross-regional initiatives to pressurethe OIC into moving away from the defamation of religion

    • 19:52

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: agenda.Concurrently, alternatives were proposedthat those same countries said theywould agree to if defamation of religion was dropped.In 2011, the OIC reached a compromise agreementto pursue an alternative initiativeat UN bodies, aimed instead at combatingreligious intolerance.

    • 20:13

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: And indeed, for the past four years,there have been resolutions on that topic whichhave received strong support, with stridestaken to address that issue.All had been quiet on the defamation of religion frontuntil 2015.There have recently been attempts, spearheadedby Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to put defamation of religion

    • 20:35

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: back onto the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council.It remains to be seen as to what impactthose attempts will have on the combating religious intoleranceagenda, and more broadly on the cooperationand consensus between the OIC and those countries thatoppose the defamation of religion agenda.

    • 20:60

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: It is interesting that the OIC backed downduring and immediately after the Arab Spring uprisings.Do you think that the internal disharmonywithin the OIC at that time contributed to its ceasingto advance the defamation of religion agenda between 2010

    • 21:20

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: and 2015?Is the UN the right place to pursue these typesof collective agendas?Why do you think political blocs thinkit is an appropriate arena for advancing issues thatdo not have universal relevance or appeal?

    • 21:41

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: Why do we have human rights laws if they protectsome people but not others?Do you think defamation of religioncould be used as a smokescreen for committing human rightsabuses?Do you see any difference between the waythat the OIC operates and acts as a bloc comparedwith the European Union, which negotiates

    • 22:03

      ROSA FREEDMAN [continued]: an internal common position before speaking or votingat the UN?Are we were able to judge political blocsand their behaviors when there are so many of them?Should the UN try to outlaw or ban such blocs?

Defamation of Religion

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Dr. Rosa Freedman presents a case study on the political efforts to enshrine a new universal human right. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation has worked for years to establish a new right: the right to not have one's religion defamed. But does this putative right violate already recognized rights?

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Defamation of Religion

Dr. Rosa Freedman presents a case study on the political efforts to enshrine a new universal human right. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation has worked for years to establish a new right: the right to not have one's religion defamed. But does this putative right violate already recognized rights?

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