GENEVA (Reuters) - Islamic states are bidding to use the United Nations to limit freedom of expression and belief around the world, the global humanist body IHEU told the U.N.'s Human Rights Council on Wednesday.
In a statement submitted to the 48-nation Council, the IHEU said the 57 members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) were also aiming to undermine the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"The Islamic states see human rights exclusively in Islamic terms, and by sheer weight of numbers this view is becoming dominant within the U.N. system. The implications for the universality of human rights are ominous," it said.
The statement from the IHEU, the International Humanist and Ethical Union, was issued as the U.N.'s special investigator on freedom of opinion and expression argued in a report that religions had no special protection under human rights law.
Ambeyi Ligabo, a Kenyan jurist, said in a report to the Council limitations on freedom of expression in international rights pacts "are not designed to protect belief systems from external or internal criticism."
But this argument is rejected by Islamic states, who say outright criticism -- and especially lampooning -- of religion violates the rights of believers to enjoy respect.
The IHEU statement and Ligabo's report came against the background of mounting success by the OIC, currently holding a summit in Dakar, in achieving passage of U.N. resolutions against "defamation of religions."
Although several such resolutions have been adopted by the two-year-old Council and its predecessor since 1999, in December the U.N.'s General Assembly easily passed a similar one for the first time over mainly Western and Latin American opposition.
The OIC -- backed by allies in Africa and by Russia and Cuba -- has been pushing for stronger resolutions on "defamation" since a global controversy arose two years ago over cartoons in a Danish newspaper which Muslims say insult their religion.
The "defamation" issue has become especially sensitive this year as the U.N. prepares to celebrate in the autumn the 50th anniversary of the 1948 Universal Declaration, long seen as the bedrock of international human rights law and practice.
The OIC has been actively promoting its own 1990 Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, which it argues is complementary to the Universal Declaration but which critics like the IHEU say negate it in many areas.
Humanists, who include believers of many faiths supporting separation of religion and state as well as atheists and agnostics, say the "defamation" drive is part of an effort to extend the Cairo declaration to the international sphere.
The IHEU statement argued the December General Assembly resolution means states "may now legislate against any show of disrespect for religion, however they may choose to define 'disrespect'."