FaithWorld

from The Great Debate:

Human Rights Day: Still pursuing religious freedom

December 10 marks Human Rights Day, the 65th anniversary of the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), signed by 48 nations -- with just eight abstentions.

Sixty-five years ago, naysayers insisted it was nobody else’s business how governments behaved within their borders. The declaration confronted this cynical view -- and continues to do so today. Human rights abuses and their consequences spill beyond national borders, darkening prospects for harmony and stability across the globe. Freedom of religion or belief, as well as other human rights, are essential to peace and security. They are everyone’s business.

Each signatory nation pledged to honor and protect these rights. For example, the declaration provides the foundation for much of the agenda of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, on which we serve.

Yet 75 percent of the world’s population now lives in countries in which this freedom is highly restricted, according to a recent Pew study.

These include countries like Saudi Arabia, which abstained, as well as many that signed the declaration, including China, Iran and Nigeria.

Hillary Clinton seeks to smooth Islamic defamation row with OIC

(U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu (L) in Istanbul July 15, 2011/Murad Sezer)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed with a major global Islamic organization on Friday to pursue new ways of resolving debates over religion without resorting to legal steps against defamation. Clinton met Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the head of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), in Istanbul to help set up new international mechanisms both protect free speech and combat religious discrimination around the world.

“Together we have begun to overcome the false divide that pits religious sensitivities against freedom of religion. We are pursuing a new approach based on concrete steps to fight intolerance wherever it occurs,” Clinton said.

U.N. rights forum proclaims equal gay rights, Muslims states object

(Delegates talk at the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva June 9, 2011/Denis Balibouse)

 

The top U.N. human rights body declared Friday there should be no discrimination or violence against people based on their sexual orientation, a vote Western countries called historic but Islamic states firmly rejected. The controversial resolution marked the first time that the Human Rights Council recognized the equal rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, diplomats said.

The text, presented by South Africa, was adopted by 23 countries in favour, 19 against with 3 abstentions and one delegation absent during voting. Libya’s membership in the 47-member Geneva forum was suspended in March.

Islamic bloc drops 12-year U.N. drive to ban defamation of religion

(U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the high level segment of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, February 28, 2011. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud)

(U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the Human Rights Council in Geneva and urges it "to move beyond a decade-long debate over whether insults to religion should be banned or criminalised," February 28, 2011/Valentin Flauraud)

Islamic countries set aside their 12-year campaign to have religions protected from “defamation”, allowing the U.N. Human Rights Council in Genea to approve a plan to promote religious tolerance on Thursday. Western countries and their Latin American allies, strong opponents of the defamation concept, joined Muslim and African states in backing without vote the new approach that switches focus from protecting beliefs to protecting believers.

Since 1998, the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) had won majority approval in the council and at the United Nations General Assembly for a series of resolutions on “combating defamation of religion”. Critics said the concept ran against international law and free speech, and left the way open for tough “blasphemy” laws like those in Pakistan which have been invoked this year by the killers of two moderate politicians in Pakistan. They argued that it also allowed states where one religion predominates to keep religious minorities under tight control or even leave them open to forced conversion or oppression.

Frictions seen easing in troubled U.N. human rights body

(Delegates observe a one-minute silence during the high level segment of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, February 28, 2011. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud)

(Delegates at the 16th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, February 28, 2011/Valentin Flauraud)

The United States and NGO campaign groups say diplomatic shifts on highly-charged issues like religion and Iran in the long-polarised U.N. Human Rights Council could turn it into a more effective body.

U.S. ambassador Eileen Donahoe said emerging accords on tackling religious hatred, Iran’s rights record and unusual cooperation across mutually suspicious regional blocs on Libya could mark a turning point for the forum.

Vatican tells U.N. that critics of gays under attack

Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican/Tom Heneghan

Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican/Tom Heneghan

People who criticise gay sexual relations for religious or moral reasons are increasingly being attacked and vilified for their views, a Vatican diplomat told the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said the Roman Catholic Church deeply believed that human sexuality was a gift reserved for married heterosexual couples. But those who express these views are faced with “a disturbing trend,” he said.

“People are being attacked for taking positions that do not support sexual behaviour between people of the same sex,” he told the current session of the Human Rights Council.

U.N. restores gay reference to violence measure

united nations (Photo: United Nations headquarters in New York, July 31, 2008/Brendan McDermid)

The United States has succeeded in getting the United Nations to restore a reference to killings due to sexual orientation that had been deleted from a resolution condemning unjustified executions.

Western delegations were disappointed last month when the U.N. General Assembly’s human rights committee approved an Arab and African proposal to cut the reference to slayings due to sexual orientation from a resolution on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions.

The 192-nation General Assembly approved on Tuesday a U.S. amendment to the resolution that restored the reference to sexual orientation with 93 votes in favor, 55 against and 27 abstentions. The amended resolution was then adopted with 122 yes votes, one against and 62 abstentions.

Support for UN vote against defaming religion wanes

ungaA U.N. General Assembly committee has once again voted to condemn the “vilification of religion” but support narrowed for a measure that Western powers say is a threat to freedom of expression. The non-binding resolution, championed by Islamic states and opposed by Western countries, passed by only 12 votes on Tuesday in the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which focuses on human rights, 76-64 with 42 abstentions. (Photo: United Nations General Assembly  in New York September 24, 2010/Keith Bedford)

Opponents noted that support had fallen and opposition increased since last year, when the Third Committee vote was 81-55 with 43 abstentions. The 192-nation General Assembly is expected to formally adopt the measure next month.

The resolution was amended from versions passed in previous years in an attempt to secure support from Western nations. Instead of defamation of religion, it speaks of “vilification.” It also condemned acts of violence and intimidation due to “Islamophobia, Judeophobia and Christianophobia.” Last year’s resolution, as in previous years, focused on Islam and did not mention Judaism and Christianity.

from Afghan Journal:

Saudi Arabia spot on UN women agency triggers outcry

s1

The United Nations has set up a new super agency to better fight for the rights of women around the world including Afghanistan. This week UN Women, as the new body is called, held elections to choose countries to sit on the board and the results have triggered a storm of criticism even before the new agency formally comes into being next January. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia were in the running for a seat, and while Iran got displaced at the last minute in the vote, the Saudis are through.

And that has provoked the wrath of rights activists and commentators.  The idea of the conservative desert kingdom, where women cannot drive or take significant decisions without the permission of a male  relative or work as supermarket cashiers, leading a global fight for the promotion of women's rights is hard to accept, they say. How can you take the UN seriously, asks Greg Scoblete in a short piece on  Real Clear World's Compass blog headlined  : Saudi Arabia bastion for women's rights.

When the results of the vote were announced, the United States warmly welcomed the defeat of Iran, saying it would have been an inauspicious start to the board, had  they won. But what about the Saudis, asks Ami Horowitz, a documentary film-maker, in an article in The Huffington Post. How can Washington or the UN justify their leadership of a high-powered body set up to promote gender equality and empower women.

Why did the U.N. proclaim World Interfaith Harmony Week?

unga 1 (Photo: United Nations General Assembly hall, 23 Nov 2006/Jérôme Blum)

The United Nations General Assembly passes a stack of resolutions every year and many of them go all but unnoticed.  One such document just approved in New York established a new World Interfaith Harmony Week. High-minded resolutions put most news junkies to sleep, so it’s probably no surprise this one got such scant media coverage (see here and here). But there’s more to this one than meets the glazed-over eye.

muslims at synodThe resolution, accepted by consensus on Wednesday, urged all member states to designate the first week of February every year as the World Interfaith Harmony Week. It asked them to “support, on a voluntary basis, the spread of the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship during that week based on Love of God and Love of the Neighbour, or based on Love of the Good and Love of the Neighbour, each according to their own religious traditions or convictions.” (Photo: Mohammad Sammak, secretary general of Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue, addresses Vatican synod of bishops, 14 )ct 2010/Osservatore Romano)

Amid the standard legal wording of U.N. resolutions, that phrase “Love of God and Love of the Neighbour” stands out both as a rare example of religious belief in an official document like this and an unmistakable hint at the authorship of this text. Readers of this blog will recognise it as a trademark phrase of the Common Word group, the Muslim scholars who have been pursuing better interfaith understanding through dialogue with Christian churches. They’ve held a number of conferences with different churches and two of the manifesto’s signatories last week became the first Muslims to address a Vatican synod of bishops. Now the group is pursuing its mission on the diplomatic stage with an appeal to governments to help foster interfaith contacts.