How Two U.N. Resolutions Got a Surprising Twist
THE forces who wish to alter the declaration on religious freedom started working right on the title. It was adjusted so that it could be interpreted two ways. Let us see how this is so.
When the General Assembly originally requested a “Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Religious Intolerance,” the emphasis was on protecting personal beliefs from intolerance by officials and others. But the current title is different. It calls for the “Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance Based on Religion or Belief.”2* As you can see, some might interpret this to cast “religion or belief” as the one causing “intolerance” that needs ‘eliminating’!
Consider another example. The compromise third paragraph of the preamble says that one of the reasons for taking measures against intolerance is that
“the disregard and infringement of human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, have brought, directly or indirectly, wars and great suffering to mankind, especially where THEY serve as a means of foreign interference in the internal affairs of other States and amount to kindling hatred between peoples and nations.”3 (Capitals and italics added.)
If you are not sure what “THEY” are that cause “wars and great suffering . . . foreign interference . . . and amount to kindling hatred,” your confusion is just what the diplomats intended! Those who interpret the villainous “THEY” to be “disregard and infringement of human rights” can have their wish, while those who interpret “THEY” to be “religion or belief” can also have it their way.
The diplomatic maneuvering to adopt this ambiguous wording was almost comical. One European nation asked just what was meant by “they.” In response, an African delegate ‘suggested that they do not explain their interpretations before the vote.’ Then a delegate from one of the Soviet republics urged that the group ‘adopt the compromise and interpret it later,’ not indicating ‘what they meant by “they.”’ He said that ‘the definition was something for each state’ to interpret. Would you believe it? The compromise was adopted!
Only two more paragraphs were considered during the latest (1976) session. The fifth paragraph was cast in similar dual-meaning fashion and adopted. But much controversy arose over the preamble’s ninth and final paragraph. In the end, says the U.N. record, “the informal Working Group was unable to adopt a text.”4
Even so, the last of numerous “compromise” paragraphs proposed came down hard on religion. It declares that “freedom of religion and belief should not be abused as a means to pursue any ideology or practice contrary to” the goals of “world peace, social justice, friendship between peoples and States.”5 (Italics added.)
In other words, if a country chose to declare that freedom of religion was being “abused,” causing a threat to “world peace,” it could call upon this paragraph to back up restrictions on that religious freedom.
Meanwhile, the Commission on Human Rights also adopted another resolution that had similar implications for religious freedom and other rights—the “right to life” resolution.
Right to Life—Paramount?
This resolution is carefully worded to appear innocuous. “Peace and security,” for example, are mentioned fully eight times amid expressions such as those in the first operative paragraph: “Everyone has the right to live in conditions of international peace and security and fully to enjoy economic, social and cultural rights and civil and political rights.”
However, the very next paragraph contains what could be called a “sleeper” clause. It states that the Commission on Human Rights is convinced that “unqualified respect for, and the promotion of, human rights and fundamental freedoms require the existence of international peace and security.”6 (Italics added.)
But what about respect for human rights when peace and security do not exist? A Latin-American delegate raised this question, saying that he “hoped that tyrannical regimes would not invoke the text of that paragraph in order to continue violating human rights and fundamental freedoms under the pretext that international peace and security did not exist in the world.”
The French delegate had similar misgivings. If peace, he said, “existed everywhere in the world, would it necessarily bring about respect for human rights in all regions . . . Would it automatically destroy tyrannical régimes . . . Would it automatically put an end to discrimination . . . ?”7
Hence, the resolution appears to put the “right to live” in “peace and security” above all other human rights (including religious freedom) even if this calls for the exclusion of such other rights. Significantly, the delegate from a regime where human rights are routinely restricted said that his delegation had “voted for the draft resolution . . . considering that it reflected its point of view perfectly.”8
Upon his return from Geneva, the American representative made this observation about these recent U.N. actions:
“These items are not at all unusual. They are typical. . . . They occur wherever international meetings are held. They are occurring everywhere faster and more forcefully. They form a deadly pattern.”
Is there a message in all of this for the future of religion? Is there truly a “deadly pattern”? Or, are these resolutions merely hollow political pronouncements, without real power? As noted earlier, only time will tell.
However, the Commission on Human Rights debates did reveal some deep-seated feelings toward religion that are worth considering. Current events are also exposing the churches to increasingly biting criticism, even from the democratic West. The next article will note this trend and what it means for the future of religion.
References are listed on page 10.