Pakistan’s draft resolution on religious hatred was passed by the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday 12 July. A vote by 28 votes for, seven abstentions and 12 against. Unsurprisingly, France, Germany, the United States and Great Britain voted against it, believing that it endangered freedom of expression.
This text proposed by Pakistan condemns calls and provocations to religious hatred, in particular through attacks on “holy texts”. The adopted resolution judges as “clear act of provocation and a manifestation of religious hatred” burning the Quran, or “any other holy book”including the Bible and the Torah.
The draft resolution has sparked controversy among member countries of the UN Human Rights Council. Some Western countries feared a restriction of freedom of expression, in particular the right to blasphemy, while strongly condemning the risk of incitement to hatred.
Between freedom of expression and incitement to hatred
The United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom had called on Tuesday to vote against the bill at the UN, while France and Germany, had asked for more time to negotiate and reach a consensus. . “The question of where to draw the line between freedom of expression and incitement to hatred is complicated”commented the Belgian ambassador Marc Pecsteen of Buytswerve on behalf of the European bloc.
Koran burnt in Sweden
This debate had been opened by Pakistan on behalf of several countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), after on June 28, Salwan Momika, an Iraqi refugee in Sweden, burned a few pages of a copy of the Koran in front of the largest mosque in Stockholm on the day of Eid al-Adha, a holiday celebrated by Muslims around the world.
The Swedish police had authorized the rally during which pages of the Koran were burned but later opened an investigation for “agitation against an ethnic group”, on the grounds that the burning took place in front of a mosque. This incident triggered a series of reactions in the Muslim world.
right to blasphemy
The resolution calls on states to enact laws that “prevent and prosecute acts and incitements to religious hatred”. It asks the UN to identify countries that do not have such legislation and to organize a round table of experts to examine the subject.
“We regret having to vote against this unbalanced text, but it is in contradiction with positions that we have adopted for a long time on freedom of expression”said the American ambassador Michèle Taylor, while her French counterpart Jérôme Bonnafont pointed out that human rights protected “persons, not religions, doctrines, beliefs or their symbols”