A proposal for a United Nations protocol banning blasphemy made by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during yesterday’s 67th General Assembly meeting in New York has provoked criticism by local and international rights groups. “This instrument, a product of international concensus, shall serve as a point of reference that the world community must comply with,” Yudhoyono told world leaders in New York. Ali Akbar Tanjung of the Human Rights Working Group said such a protocol would be ineffective in Indonesia and only give legal protections for criminal acts of religious violence. “The protocol will not reduce religious-based conflicts. Instead, it will legalize such conflicts … particularly against religious minority groups,” he told ucanews.com. Tanjung added that the president’s proposal ignored the failure of the country’s existing legislation – the 1965 Blasphemy Law – to promote peace and instead has sanctioned further religious violence. “The law has become [a way to legitimize] extremist groups to commit violent acts particularly against minority groups such as the Ahmadiyah and Shia regarded by mainstream Muslims as deviant.” New York-based Human Rights Watch condemned the proposal on the eve of Yudhoyono’s speech, calling it hypocritical. “There is a high level of hypocrisy by saying that [Yudhoyono] is going to be the champion of religious moderation and religious tolerance at the international level, while he has basically presided over a significant decline in religious tolerance in Indonesia,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division. Tanjung said the president should instead have called for the international community to strengthen the UN Human Rights Council’s 2008 resolution on combating defamation of religions instead of tabling a new protocol. Ifdhal Kasim of the National Commission on Human Rights agreed. “How can we expect the international community to accept such a proposal while a similar blasphemy law has been used to condone violence against minority Muslim groups,” he was quoted as saying in a report by the Jakarta Post. Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama told the General Assembly that the issue of free speech was vital to preserving liberty, and that repression was not an effective response to hate speech. “Given the power of faith in our lives, and the passions that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech.” He added: “There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There is no video that justifies an attack on an embassy. There is no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan.”
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