Last Thursday the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution proposed by Islamic countries noting its deep concern about defamation of religion (well, one religion in particular) and urged governments to take action to prohibit it. Roy W Brown, of the International and Humanist Ethical Association, responds (via):
For the past eleven years the organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), representing the 57 Islamic States, has been tightening its grip on the throat of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yesterday, 28 March 2008, they finally killed it.
With the support of their allies including China, Russia and Cuba (none well-known for their defence of human rights) the Islamic States succeeded in forcing through an amendment to a resolution on Freedom of Expression that has turned the entire concept on its head. The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression will now be required to report on the “abuse” of this most cherished freedom by anyone who, for example, dares speak out against Sharia laws that require women to be stoned to death for adultery or young men to be hanged for being gay, or against the marriage of girls as young as nine, as in Iran.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan saw the writing on the wall three years ago when he spoke of the old Commission on Human Rights having “become too selective and too political in its work”. Piecemeal reform would not be enough. The old system needed to be swept away and replaced by something better. The Human Rights Council was supposed to be that new start, a Council whose members genuinely supported, and were prepared to defend, the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Yet since its inception in June 2006, the Human Rights Council has failed to condemn the most egregious examples of human rights abuse in the Sudan, Byelorussia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China and elsewhere, whilst repeatedly condemning Israel and Israel alone.
Three years later Annan’s dream lies shattered, and the Human Rights Council stands exposed as incapable of fulfilling its central role: the promotion and protection of human rights. The Council died yesterday in Geneva, and with it the Universal Declaration of Human Rights whose 60th anniversary we were actually celebrating this year.
There has been a seismic shift in the balance of power in the UN system. For over a decade the Islamic States have been flexing their muscles. Yesterday they struck. There can no longer be any pretence that the Human Rights Council can defend human rights. The moral leadership of the UN system has moved from the States who created the UN in the aftermath of the Second World War, committed to the concepts of equality, individual freedom and the rule of law, to the Islamic States, whose allegiance is to a narrow, medieval worldview defined exclusively in terms of man’s duties towards Allah, and to their fellow-travellers, the States who see their future economic and political interests as being best served by their alliances with the Islamic States. [...]
On the vote, the amendment was adopted by 27 votes to 15 against, with three abstentions.
The Sri Lankan delegate explained clearly his reasons for supporting the amendment:
“.. if we regulate certain things ‘minimally’ we may be able to prevent them from being enacted violently on the streets of our towns and cities.”
In other words: Don’t exercise your right to freedom of expression because your opponents may become violent. For the first time in the 60 year history of UN Human Rights bodies, a fundamental human right has been limited simply because of the possible violent reaction by the enemies of human rights.
The violence we have seen played out in reaction to the Danish cartoons is thus excused by the Council – it was the cartoonists whose freedom of expression needed to be regulated. And Theo van Gogh can be deemed responsible for his own death.