GENEVA, April 1: Arab and Muslim countries defended on Tuesday a resolution they pushed through at the United Nations to have the body’s expert on free speech to report on individuals and news media for negative comments on Islam.

An amendment passed by the UN Human Rights Council on Friday directed the body’s expert on freedom of expression to report on people who abuse their free speech rights by espousing racial and religious discrimination.

Ambeyi Ligabo, a legal expert from Kenya, currently holds the post.

The measure, proposed by Egypt and Pakistan, was passed 32-0 with the support of Islamic, Arab and African nations on Friday. European nations and some other countries abstained.The United States, Canada and European countries criticised the role reversal for Kenyan legal expert Ambeyi Ligabo, who has reported to the global body on measures by dictatorships and repressive governments to restrict free speech.

The US and other Western nations claimed that the Muslim-backed resolution at the UN Human Rights Council could curtail freedom of expression and help dictatorial regimes block dissenting views.

“The resolution adopted attempts to legitimise the criminalization of expression,” said Warren W. Tichenor, the US ambassador to the UN in Geneva.

“The resolution seeks to impose restrictions on individuals rather than to emphasize the duty and responsibility of governments to guarantee, uphold, promote and protect human rights,” Tichenor told the 47-nation body.

The United States is not a member of the council but has the right to speak as an observer.

Pakistan’s ambassador, Masood Khan, speaking on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, defended the resolution and denied that it would limit freedom of speech.

“It only tries to make freedom of expression responsible,” Masood said.

Egypt’s Ambassador Sameh Shoukry said there was a growing trend to erode human rights law, permitting some of the worst practices that incite racial and religious hatred.

The resolution was the latest move initiated by the Arab and Muslim countries dominating the council to protect Islam from religious hatred and defamation.

Islamic groups have been demanding limits on free speech ever since a Danish magazine published sketches of holy prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), provoking riots across the Islamic world in 2006.

Muslim countries also have cited the recent release of an anti-Islamic Dutch film and the Pope’s controversial comments on the religion in demanding tighter controls on the so-called freedom of expression.

The council has no enforcement powers but is supposed to act as a moral conscience.

Last week, it adopted a separate resolution urging countries to enact anti-defamation laws specifically to protect Muslims.

Slovenia’s ambassador, Andrej Logar, speaking on behalf of the European Union, claimed that Ligabo’s role as an independent expert was shifting from protecting free speech toward limiting it.

Terry Cormier, a member of the Canadian delegation, said: “The job of a special rapporteur is not to police the action of individuals.”

The New York-based Human Rights Watch condemned the amendment.

“It turns someone who is supposed to defend freedom of opinion into a prosecutor whose job is to go after those who abuse this freedom,” Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said.—AP

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