Explanation of Vote of the Defamation of Religions Resolution by John Sammis, Deputy U.S. Representative to the Economic and Social Council, in the Third Committee, General Assembly

John F. Sammis
United States Deputy Representative to ECOSOC 
U.S. Mission to the United Nations 
New York, NY
November 23, 2010




AS DELIVERED

Thank you Mr. Chairman,

as we have done in the past, the United States will be voting against this resolution on “defamation of religions.” 

For some time, the United States has participated in a variety of discussions with many delegations about this resolution, in an effort to find concrete cross-regional solutions to the core problems we believe this resolution springs from - religious intolerance and hatred.   We share with the sponsors a deep concern about the proliferation of discrimination, and the targeting of individuals based on their religion. 

Our goal has always been to find common ground sufficient to overcome our differences and negotiate a resolution that could be adopted by consensus – thus strengthening the voice and power of this resolution.  As President Obama said recently in Jakarta, we can either "choose to be defined by our differences, and give in to a future of suspicion and mistrust.  Or we can choose to do the hard work of forging common ground, and commit ourselves to the steady pursuit of progress. [And t]he United States is committed to human progress."

In this vein, we appreciate that Morocco and others in the OIC have made changes to the resolution.  There has been some openness to discuss our views with key parties to this negotiation, which is a very welcome and positive development, considering our serious concerns with the approach this resolution takes each year.    However 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.

Most importantly, the resolution still seeks to curtail and penalize speech. The changes that have been made from the original tabled version, while representing an important gesture, unfortunately do not get the heart of our concerns - the text's negative implications for both freedom of religion and freedom of expression.  For example, the resolution continues to request that governments prohibit or punish offensive speech, including creating laws to do so.  It also continues to refer to the problematic defamation concept, excludes many religions or belief systems, and equates defamation to a human rights violation or incitement.   Additionally, as we have discussed in this year’s negotiations, human rights are held by individuals - not by governments, institutions, or religions – and language in the resolution that addresses human rights should reflect this. 

We look forward to continuing to work with the OIC and all delegations to find an action oriented approach that can inclusively combat religious intolerance, while not penalizing those who exercise the freedoms of speech or religion, keeping in mind that such a consensus must be forged not through negotiations within one group, but through negotiations among groups.  Such talks will take time, and demand patience and understanding on all sides.  In the meantime, we will continue to cast our vote – and encourage others to do the same - against a resolution that can be used to justify the infringement of human rights under the guise of promoting human rights.

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PRN: 2010/294