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Geneva, Switzerland
Win for Muslim countries on religious debates by UN body
Muslim countries have won a battle to prevent Islam from being criticized during debates by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Religions deserve special protection because any debate about faith is bound to be ''very complex, very sensitive and very intense,'' council President Doru-Romulus Costea said.

Only religious scholars should be allowed to discuss matters of faith, he told journalists in Geneva. While Costea's ban applies to all religions, it was prompted by Muslim countries complaining about references to Islam.

Costea issued his ''presidential ruling'' on Monday during the eighth meeting of the council's 47 members, which do not include the United States of America. The ruling will not affect findings by the council's experts, just its chamber debates.

On Monday Egypt, Pakistan and Iran angrily protested attempts by a humanist group to link Islam to human rights abuses such as female genital mutilation and so-called honour killings of women.

The interventions sparked a heated debate which threatened to sour the mood of the meeting ahead of important votes on the future of the council's work.

The council was created two years ago to replace the discredited UN Human Rights Commission. Its resolutions carry no legal weight but are intended to throw a spotlight on governments that abuse their citizens.

''This council is not prepared to discuss religious matters in depth, consequently we should not do it,'' Costea ruled after an emergency break to calm the situation.

''To continue a debate on this in the Human Rights Council will mean to open the door to purely political approaches,'' Costea later told journalists.

Source: The Associated Press (AP)