Justitia’s (and now Vanderbilt’s) Jacob Mchangama has written an in-depth piece on the topic, from which we quote:
As the inaugural Chairperson of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1950, Eleanor Roosevelt was embroiled in a heated debate about free speech restrictions. The Soviet Union under Stalin battled tooth and nail for the ability of governments to restrict “hate speech” under international human rights law. A stern warning from Roosevelt, who called the Soviet initiative “extremely dangerous.” She cautioned the panel “not to include… any provision likely to be exploited by totalitarian States for the purpose of rendering the other articles null and void,” saying that doing so would “only encourage Governments to punish all criticisms in the name of protection against religious or national hostility.”
A majority of the United Nations Human Rights Council confirmed Roosevelt’s prescience on July 12, 2023. To achieve this, it passed a resolution that effectively puts an end to Roosevelt’s hopes for a global human rights framework to safeguard people from repressive countries.
Countries are urged in the resolution to “address, prevent, and prosecute acts and advocacy of religious hatred.” The growing frequency of Quran burnings in Denmark and Sweden are being met with this resolution as a direct result of the actions of Danish far-right extremist Rasmus Paludan and a few imitators. Without a doubt, Paludan is a bigot who enjoys the chaos and the attention his deliberate provocation brings about. However, the HRC resolution’s proposal to criminalize the burning of “holy books” as “advocacy of religious hatred” is both short-sighted and dangerous, no matter how tempting it may be to quiet an extreme like Paludan.
To see that the resolution’s true intent is to provide authoritarian regimes cover and legitimacy when repressing dissent, one need only look at any of the 28 states that voted in support of the resolution.
Pakistan, where the death penalty applies to blasphemy and where the allegation of blasphemy is used to oppress religious minorities and secularists, is one of the countries that voted in favor of the resolution. Despite its atheist political doctrine, China also voted in support of the resolution. In contrast to the Chinese Communist Party’s systematic and arbitrary incarceration of over a million Uighurs, the vast majority of whom are Muslims, in “reeducation” camps, China seems to believe that Muslims should be safeguarded only from book burnings in democracies. Hasiyet Ehmet, 57, was sentenced to 14 years in jail for distributing copies of the Quran to minors and preaching Islam to them.
A horrifying illustration of the religious and political persecution that the HRC resolution would assist legitimate is Iran’s treatment of its opponents under its theocratic leadership. Yousef Mehrad and Sadrollah Fazeli Zar were executed by hanging in May 2023 for insulting the prophet Muhammad and advocating atheism. They were accused of several things, including torching a Quran.
Please read the whole piece. Mchangama is a renowned expert on the topic of free speech; he wrote Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media and has written or co-written other scholarly works on the topic, including two that we published (after a blind review procedure) in the Journal of Free Speech Law.