UN: SIAWI call against UN resolutions on 'defamation of religions'

A statement from SIAWI (Secularism Is A Women's Issue) against UN Resolutions 61/164 and A/HRC/4/2.12 on the "Defamation Of Religions".
"Secularism, i.e. separation of religion from politics, has been regularly attacked since its inception by the Catholic Church and ultra conservative political forces in Europe, even in France. During the past two decades, Muslim fundamentalists revived the struggle against secularism and developed multiple strategies at national, European and international levels. What is at stake is the evolution of the concept of secularism, in which the state, instead of being unconcerned with religions (apart from fulfilling its obligation to guarantee its citizens the individual freedom of practicing their religion), would be obliged to ensure equal political representation of religions.
Again, the defence of secularism is a subject of burning topicality. Secular space goes shrinking and in many countries it has become un-conceivable to dispense of a religious identity, even more so if one belongs to the population of migrant descent.

Muslim fundamentalists rely on the notions of minority rights, religious rights, cultural rights to demand the right to interfere in state affairs in the name of culture and/or religion. They master the art of manipulation of human rights concepts. Numerous are their recent attempts to replace the general law ( by definition changeable by the will and vote of the people) by religious laws (by definition immutable and imposed in the name of god to presumed believers). Canada barely escaped the introduction of religious arbitration courts in family matters, thanks to wide national and international women's mobilization (2006). Similarly France owe to a determined popular resistance and especially to women's resistance its final decision not to modify its secular law on religious symbols in schools (2005). However at the same time, a German woman judge relies on what she thinks is 'sharia' law in a case of divorce (April 2007) and Britain allows in certain cases 'traditional' courts to substitute themselves to the Kingdom 's legal courts (2007).

Let us take note of the fact that it were mainly women who were targeted by these legal measures - and this if course made it more acceptable to governments, always willing to trade women's rights for social peace. Up to the point of accepting that dearly acquired women's rights now written into laws may not apply to some categories of citizens, due to their ethnic background ( the land of origin of their parents or grandparents) or to their supposed religious affiliation. These women citizens would thus be excluded from the democratic process and frozen into an alien 'nature', excluded in fact from citizenship.

Let us note too, without surprise, that catholic and Jewish authorities sided with Muslim fundamentalists' efforts. During the nineties, women already witnessed their unholy alliance against reproductive rights during the UN World Conference on Population and Development in Cairo and during the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing.

It took a new turn when the same politico-religious forces questioned freedom of expression at international level. In this case, women are not their primary targets, and one may hope that other forces will join, even if late, their struggle for preserving total secularism of the state.

Pressure was made on the European Union for the concept of blasphemy to be introduced in the language of the European Constitution. As per their strategic plans devised in their December 2006 meeting in Mecca, the countries of the Organisation of Islamic Conference have been lobbying the UN and the Human Rights Council. They were supported by several catholic countries. Together, they finally succeeded: the UN and the HRC passed resolutions (see below the article by Jeanne Favret Saada) demanding from states 'vigorous measures' to forbid the 'spreading of ideas and documents defaming religions'. Will be considered defamation 'any action against religions, prophets and creeds'. States should modify accordingly ' their constitutions, laws and educational systems'. All this in the name of Human Rights

Once more we witness the ideological confusion between protecting individuals from racism, discrimination and intolerance and legitimizing the most backward forces in religions. Indeed 'Muslims' or supposed Muslims must be protected against the first plague, but against the second as well which will force them to bend to rules they have not chosen and the international community to watch the abuse in silence, in the name of respect for creeds. The experience of those of the Muslim countries who lived under the boot of religious extreme rights show that freedom of consciousness, freedom of thought, freedom of movement, freedoms of expression are rights that denied in the very name of religious rights. And it is then also in the name of religious rights and cultural rights that international human rights organizations including the Commission of Human Rights at the UN abstain from intervening. The experience of these countries also shows that citizens are denied the right to define for themselves their religion and their culture, while the most damageable forms from the point of view of human rights were then imposed on them. There is another confusion between extreme right politico-religious forces which pretend to be under attack when one does not follow them in all their interpretations and follies - and religion itself. To oppose fundamentalist is thus equated to an attack on the religion they claim to represent, be it Christianity, Islam or other- and there are numerous recent examples of such situations. It is criminal for the UN and for the HRC to support such a manipulation of human rights concepts.

We call on all freedom loving forces to become fully aware of the seriousness of the situation, in particular women who are first targeted when secularism recedes.

The HRC (see below) calls on NGOs to suggest adequate ways of implementing these resolutions. No doubt fundamentalists of all creeds will seize the opportunity to support laws that will destroy liberties. We call on NGOs and individuals not to let them occupy the floor and to clearly take a stand viz the HRC.

Beyond, we call for an increased vigilance and for citizens organizations in each of our countries, to stop the changes in their 'constitutions, laws and educational systems' that would put an end to secularism, i.e. to change identity as citizens for communal identity.

May 5, 2007


The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: Call for NGO contributions

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights presents its compliments to non-governmental organizations and has the honour to refer to the General Assembly resolution 61/164 of 19 December 2006, entitled "Combating Defamation of Religions", which requests the Secretary-General to submit a report on the implementation of the resolution to the General Assembly at its sixty-second session.

Non-governmental organizations are invited to forward contributions, with regards to initiatives on global dialogue for promotion of a culture of tolerance and peace based on respect for human rights and religious diversity, to this report to the Anti-Discrimination Unit by 13 July 2007. All contributions should be forwarded to Mrs. Marie-Dominique Perret (fax + 41 22 92 890 50 or e-mail: mperret@ohchr.org).

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights seizes this opportunity to renew to non-governmental organisations the assurance of their highest consideration.