* Muslim states vote for resolution, Western ones opposed
* U.S. says anti-defamation laws threaten free speech
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 23 A U.N. General Assembly
committee once again voted to condemn the "vilification of
religion" on Tuesday, 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 in
the General Assembly's Third Committee, which focuses on human
rights, 76-64 with 42 abstentions.
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.
Despite the changes, however, the United States, European
Union and their allies rejected the resolution's calls for
legislation banning the defamation of religion.
The text, submitted by Morocco on behalf of Muslim states,
said the assembly "urges all States to provide ... adequate
protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation
and coercion resulting from vilification of religions, and
incitement to religious hatred in general."
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
U.S. envoy John Sammis told the Third Committee Washington
believes the amendments are inadequate.
"We are disappointed to see that despite our efforts and
discussions on this resolution, the text once again seems to
take us farther apart, rather than helping to bridge the
historical divides," he said.
"The resolution still seeks to curtail and penalize
speech," he said. "The changes ... unfortunately do not get to
the heart of our concerns -- the text's negative implications
for both freedom of religion and freedom of expression."
He also said it was wrong to try to apply international
human rights laws to religious beliefs, since human rights are
intended to protect individuals, not governments or religions.
Islamic states say such resolutions do not aim to limit
free speech but to stop publications like those of the Danish
cartoons showing the Prophet Mohammed, which sparked bloody
protests by Muslims around the world in 2005.
Pamela Kling Takiff of Human Rights First, a U.S.-based
advocacy group, said the resolution fails to recognize the
importance of freedom of expression and provides explicit
support for national blasphemy and defamation laws that have
been used to stifle freedom of expression.
Leonard Leo, chairman of the U.S. Commission on
International Religious Freedom, issued a statement welcoming
the decline in support for the resolution.
"Each year, more and more countries are recognizing that
laws protecting religions from 'defamation' or criticism
increase intolerance and human rights violations, instead of
reducing these problems," Leo said.
(Editing by Todd Eastham)