An initiative by Islamic states to create a United Nations watchdog to monitor religious sensitivity in the news media is setting off alarms among critics, who warn of censorship in the guise of religious tolerance.
The Geneva-based U.N. Watch, a non-governmental organization, says the resolution due for a vote Friday would instruct the U.N. Human Rights Council's special investigator on religious freedom to "work closely with mass media organizations to ensure that they create and promote an atmosphere of respect and tolerance for religious and cultural diversity."
The resolution, which alludes to the Danish cartoons that provoked Muslim riots worldwide, was tabled by the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
"The Islamic bloc is attempting to turn an international shield for religious freedom into a sword for religious-motivated state censorship," said Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch. "It's part of a larger campaign to invert the real danger of Islamist extremism and terrorism around the globe into an imagined narrative of Western victimization of Islam and its adherents."
U.N. Watch also called on all member states to oppose the nomination of ex-Sandinista Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann to the council's 18-member advisory committee.
"His record of virulent anti-American and anti-Western politics and ardent support for extremist leaders such as Iranian President Ahmadinejad have rendered him a notoriously divisive figure who falls afoul of this UN position's criteria of independence and impartiality," Neuer said.
The group noted that in 2008, Alejandro Wolff, the deputy to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said that D'Escoto "has repeatedly abused his position to pursue his personal agenda, and in doing so he diminishes the office and harms the General Assembly. He is doing the United Nations a disservice by dividing the membership at a time when he should be a unifying force," the official U.S. statement said.