Belief groups unite to oppose UN blasphemy law

  • post Type / Campaigns
  • Date / 10 November 2009

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has joined with more than 100 other groups from more than 20 countries to protest a so-called “global blasphemy law” proposed by the United Nations (UN). Last month, for the first time ever, a UN body proposed a legally-binding treaty to combat the “defamation of religions.”

“Outlawing ‘defamation of religion’ will create a global law against blasphemy that takes rights from individuals and gives them to governments and religious leaders,” said Matt Cherry, head of the IHEU delegation to the United Nations in New York. “The range of belief groups opposing this measure—including Humanist, Muslim, Christian and Hindu organizations—reveals that this proposal is opposed even by the believers it claims to protect.”

The United Nations has repeatedly passed non-binding resolutions against “defamation of religions” since 1999. However, last month saw the first ever proposal by a UN body for a legally-binding treaty on the issue. In a UN meeting that concluded in Geneva on October 30th, Pakistan, on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and Nigeria, on behalf of the Africa Group, proposed a ban on “defamation of religions” as a binding treaty amendment to the International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

Meanwhile, in New York on October 29th, Syria, on behalf of the OIC, along with Belarus and Venezuela, proposed yet another General Assembly resolution “combating defamation of religions.” A preliminary vote on the resolution is expected in November and a final plenary vote is expected by mid-December.

In response, the IHEU has joined more than 100 other human rights organizations in a Common Statement against the concept of “defamation of religions.” The statement and list of supporting groups is available at: http://whatisdefamationofreligion.com This coalition is both religiously diverse—with Humanists, Muslims, Atheists, Christians, Bahais, Jews, and Hindus—and regionally diverse, hailing from more than 20 countries around the world.

The joint statement by Civil Society groups comes just a week after the IHEU issued its report, “Speaking Freely About Religion: Religious Freedom, Defamation and Blasphemy.” Rebutting claims that freedom of expression must be restricted to protect freedom of religion, the 15-page report details how outlawing “defamation of religions” would violate many long-established principles of international law.

The IHEU is the global union for Humanist, Ethical Culture, Atheist and other freethinking groups. With more than 100 member organizations in 40 countries, IHEU has Special Consultative Status with the United Nations.


“Speaking Freely About Religion: Religious Freedom, Defamation and Blasphemy” is available for download at: https://humanists.international/UN-blasphemy-report

The Common Statement by Civil Society against the concept of “Defamation of Religion” is available at: http://whatisdefamationofreligion.com

For more information contact Matt Cherry at or on +1 518 632 1040.

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