Friday, March 26, 2010

US Position on UN Vote Explained

We strongly believe that governments have the tools to address intolerance, and that these include a combination of robust legal protections against discrimination and hate crimes, proactive government outreach, inter-religious efforts, education, and the vigorous defense of freedom of religion and expression. Respectful societies are built by individuals on the basis of open dialogue. When held up to the bright light of public scrutiny, hateful ideas are shown for what they are – lacking merit, and based on fear and ignorance.

We have a good deal to learn from one another. There are numerous examples of diverse communities living in peace in all regions of the world. Our conversation should focus on how to build mutual respect, but in doing so, we should not lose sight of our goal to realize universal human rights for all members of all religious communities as rights are held by individuals, not by governments, institutions, or religions.

The issues of intolerance, violence, and expression are squarely on the table, and have provoked debate on how to address our differences. Yet at this point, with great respect, we assert that the defamation resolution has become an instrument of division. It has failed to galvanize international support for real solutions that would improve the lives of people on the ground.

The United States will vote against this resolution because we view it as an ineffective way to address these concerns. We cannot agree that prohibiting speech is the way to promote tolerance, and because we continue to see the “defamation of religions” concept used to justify censorship, criminalization, and in some cases violent assaults and deaths of political, racial, and religious minorities around the world. Contrary to the intentions of most Member States, governments are likely to abuse the rights of individuals in the name of this resolution, and in the name of the Human Rights Council.

We are deeply committed to addressing concerns of intolerance and discrimination and are eager to work with the cosponsors and the rest of this body to address the root causes behind the resolution in the spirit of consensus. Until then, however, we urge others to join us in voting no.

Combating “Defamation of Religions”
Explanation of Vote
March 25, 2010
Delivered by Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe
U.S. Permanent Representative to the Human Rights Council

United Nations Human Rights Council, 13th Session

Thursday, March 25, 2010

UN Passes Islamophobia Resolution

The UN Human Rights Council narrowly passed a resolution condemning Islamophobic behavior, including Switzerland's minaret building ban, despite some states' major reservations.

The resolution, which was criticized by the United States as "an instrument of division", "strongly condemns... the ban on the construction of minarets of mosques and other recent discriminatory measures."

In a November referendum Swiss citizens voted to ban the construction of new minarets, a move that drew criticisms worldwide.

Such measures "are manifestations of Islamophobia that stand in sharp contradiction to international human rights obligations concerning freedoms of religions," said the resolution.

Such acts would "fuel discrimination, extremism and misperception leading to polarization and fragmentation with dangerous unintended and unforeseen consequences," it charged.

Some 20 countries voted in favor of the resolution entitled "combating defamation of religions", 17 voted against and eight abstained.

The resolution also "expresses deep concern ... that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism."

Friday, March 19, 2010

Kyrgyzstan Censoring Online News

In an official letter, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has urged the Kyrgyz government to stop censoring online media. As the fifth anniversary of the country’s March 2005 ‘orange’ revolution approaches, Kyrgyz authorities are putting unprecedented pressure on independent media. Ordinary Kyrgyz are also outraged by fee hikes of essential services, encouraging the opposition.

In its letter, the OSCE has called on the Kyrgyz government to respect its international obligations to protect freedom of speech and to restore access to a number of online media sources and to Azattyk Radio (the Kyrgyz Service of RFE/RL).

Similarly, “Press freedom violations seem to be increasing in frequency and intensity,” Reporters Without Borders and other groups have lamented.

Since 10 March, agencies like, and (whose editor Gennady Pavlyuk was murdered last December) have been blocked.

Local sources report that independent media have been pressured not to report certain news or lose their licence. Consequently, many have refrained from publishing articles critical of the government.

The opposition press has also been targeted. All 7,000 copies of the newspaper Forum were seized by the police in Bishkek on 15 March without any explanation, whilst its editor, Ryskeldi Mombekov, and five other journalists were detained.


Of interest (and irony) here, Kazakhstan holds the OSCE Chairmanship in 2010. Kazakhstan's Secretary of State and Minister of Foreign Affairs Kanat Saudabayev is the current Chairperson-in-Office.

For many experts, the recent turn of events suggests that Kyrgyzstan is falling into line with its autocratic central Asian neighbors.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Rise of Religious Persecution in Iran

The U.S. Department of State is “increasingly concerned” about the ongoing persecution of religious minority communities in Iran.

“In recent weeks, authorities detained at least 25 Baha’is,” the department stated, referring to followers of the monotheistic religion that views Abraham, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad, among others, as divine messengers.

“Reports indicate there have been more than 45 new detentions of Baha'is in the last four months alone, and currently as many as 60 Baha'is are imprisoned in Iran solely on the basis of their religious beliefs,” the state department noted.

“Authorities also detained more than a dozen Christians, some of whom are being held in custody without substantiated charges,” it continued.

Presently, Iran's constitution identifies Islam as the official state religion and recognizes Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians as "protected" religious minorities.

Despite the protected status, non-Shi'a Muslims in practice face discrimination and the government severely restricts freedom of religion, according to the U.S. Department of State's 2009 International Religious Freedom Report.

Last month, the 31st anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution was marred by protests and criticism of religious abuse.

Civilians took to the streets to demonstrate against the current hard-line government led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but were blocked by security forces as they marched toward Tehran square.

On the eve of the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released a statement condemning the Iranian government’s harassment of its citizens over their religious adherence and noted how the government in recent years has stepped up persecution of religious minorities, including Christians, who face physical attacks, harassment, detention, arrests and imprisonment.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

China Aims to Annihilate Buddhism

The Dalai Lama lashed out at China, accusing it of trying to "annihilate Buddhism" in Tibet and rebuffing all his efforts to reach a compromise over the disputed Himalayan region.

China shot back, accusing the Tibetan spiritual leader of using deceptions and lies to distort its policy in the region. The passionate back-and-forth highlighted the distrust, anger and frustration that separates the two sides and leaves little hope for success in recently resumed talks.

Beijing has demonized the Dalai Lama and accused him of wanting independence for Tibet, which China says is part of its territory. The Dalai Lama says he only wants some form of autonomy for Tibet within China that would allow Tibetan culture, language and religion to thrive.

The Dalai Lama spoke in an address marking the anniversaries of two failed uprisings against China, one 51 years ago that sent him into exile in India and the other two years ago that was quashed by a government crackdown that is still continuing.

He accused Chinese authorities of conducting a campaign of "patriotic re-education" in monasteries in Tibet.

Egypt to Pay for Synagogues Restoration

Egypt will shoulder the costs of restoring the country's Jewish houses of worship said the culture minister, two days after a historic synagogue in Cairo's ancient Jewish quarter was rededicated in a private ceremony.

Farouk Hosny said in a statement that his ministry views Jewish sites as much a part of Egypt's culture as Muslim mosques or Coptic churches and the restorations would not require any foreign funding.
On Sunday March 7th, the Ben Maimon synagogue, named after the 12th century rabbi and intellectual Maimonides, was rededicated in a ceremony that included half a dozen Egyptian Jewish families that long ago fled the country.

Hosny committed his ministry to restoring all 11 synagogues across Egypt, three of which have already been renovated. The best-known synagogue that of Ben Ezra, is located in Cairo's Christian quarter near a number of old churches and was restored years ago.

The ceremony at the Ben Maimon synagogue was closed to media but attendees said it was an emotional event, especially for the Egyptian-Jewish families invited, many of whom now live in Europe.