Comments by David G. Littman (NGO Representative to the United Nations in Geneva of Association for World Education (AWE) / World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ):
This is a sequel to two articles posted on Jihad Watch (28 September and 3 October): Slapstick Jihad triumphs again at the UN Human Rights Council (texts and links to UN video webcast) and Slapstick Jihad: Act 2 – a total flop at the UN Human Rights Council (text and links to UN webcast).
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On 2-3 October, over 200 national delegates and NGO representatives attended a unique two-day Expert Seminar at the United Nations in Geneva to discuss limits to freedom of expression under the title: “Freedom of expression and advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.” It was convened by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the request of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). A dozen experts and others explored the links between freedom of expression and incitement to religious hatred.
(See the end of this article for all details and links to the ‘index’, ‘experts’ – and their ‘papers’.)
The new High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR) Navi Pillay did not beat about the bush:
Let us be clear about the stakes in our discussion. By addressing possible limitations to a fundamental right, this seminar also tests whether our commitment to the full and interdependent set of human rights is truly genuine, and not expediently used in the pursuit of political agendas. We should not lose sight of the fact that while the concept of freedom of expression has been well-established for several centuries in the legal and philosophical traditions of different cultures its practical application and recognition are still far from universal. In many parts of the world, freedom of expression unfortunately remains a distant dream, facing resistance from those who benefit from silencing dissent and stifling criticism.
Many of the experts urged caution in proposing new legislation that could have negative consequences for the very people whose rights should be protected, and while implementation of the existing legislation permitted under Articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) varies so widely in its adoption.
Pakistan, Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia and the OIC delegate (Pakistan) were joined by former UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Doudou Diene, in calling for a review of Articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR and tighter restrictions on freedom of expression in the aftermath of 9/11 which, they argued, has created an entirely new set of circumstances. This was strongly opposed by several Western delegations (and some NGOs) on the grounds that today’s tensions are nothing new, that the limits already offered by Articles 19 and 20 are entirely adequate and in any case have still to be fully adopted by many states – as pointed out by the High Commissioner.
It now seems probable, however, that following this meeting the OIC will have achieved another of its objectives and the Human Rights Committee, the UN body of independent experts charged with monitoring the implementation of the ICCPR, will be asked to consider revisiting its 1980 recommendation that restrictions on Freedom of Expression should not impair the enjoyment of that freedom itself.
In a warning for the future, it became clear that the OIC’s 57 States – having won the battle in both the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly with their resolutions since 1999: “Combating Defamation of Religions” (only Islam is mentioned) – are shifting their attack to a new battle front, what they call “the West’s double standards”, by outlawing Holocaust denial while permitting insults to religion (“ Islam” / “Islamophobia”). Their demands for “a level playing field” will focus not on repealing laws against Holocaust denial, but on using these laws as models to prohibit any speech critical of Islam! A detailed summary of the seminar can be found here.
Details are provided below concerning the seminar and a link to the 12 experts, who all delivered interesting papers, which they developed later in the debate with delegates and NGOs, where the cleavage was clear between those upholding “freedom of expression” and those attempting to water it down on the grounds of “Islamophobia” and “Defamation of Religions”, led by the OIC. http://www.iheu.org/node/3294
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A brief reminder of some crucial facts is essential to understand this OIC game plan for over a decade. It began in April 1997 with the “Blasphemy Affair” at the Commission, followed by the resolution: “Defamation of Islam” (finally “Defamation of Religions”) of 1999. See here.
The Danish “Cartoons Affair” only became violent after the 3rd Extraordinary Islamic Summit, held in Mecca on 7-8 December 2005 when major decisions were taken. Then, the OIC’s Ten-Year Program of Action was adopted; its Final Communiqué provided a clear plan and message:
The Conference called for considering the possibility of establishing an independent permanent body to promote human rights in Member States as well as the possibility in preparing an Islamic Charter on Human Rights in accordance with the provisions of the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam and interact with the United Nations and other relevant international bodies. [The CDHR is based only on Shari’ah law – Articles 24-25.]
http://www.oic-oci.org/ex-summit/english/fc-eexsumm-en.htm. See, II. In the Political Field §13.
On 18 January 2006, OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, appealing for a ‘dialogue’, denounced and strongly disapproved the recurrence of the publication of blasphemous and insulting caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed...”[these] misguided Islamophobic acts, by deeply hurting the feelings of one-fifth of humanity, go beyond the freedom of expression or press and they violate international principles, values and ethics enshrined in the various resolutions and declarations of the United Nations. Unfortunately, acts of sacrilege of the holy Islamic symbols harm and contradict various efforts and initiatives aiming at contributing to the entrenchment of an atmosphere of dialogue among civilizations, cultures and religions, including the UN adopted OIC initiative ‘Dialogue among Civilizations’
And another passage from this text speaks volumes:It is the common sense that Islamophobic acts, which are also against the internationally promoted common values, can not and should not be condoned in the pretext of freedom of expression or press. Principle of freedom of expression can not be promoted by offensively hurting and trampling on the sincere religious beliefs of millions of people.
In a subsequent press release by the OIC Secretariat’s Observatory on Islamophobia (4 February 2006), he cited a major point of contention: “the consistent pattern and continuity of sacrilege and blasphemy being committed in the name of freedom of speech by some publications in Europe.”
This call from Mecca to the United Nations and to the world found an echo when the controversial, but so-called moderate, Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi – spiritual guide of the Muslim Brotherhood – declared in a sermon aired on 3 February 2006 on Qatar TV:We are not a Nation of Jackasses…the nation [Ummah] must rage in anger…We must rage, and show our rage to the world… the governments [of the world] must be pressured to demand that the United Nations adopt a clear resolution or law that categorically prohibits affronts to prophets – to the prophets of the Lord and his Messengers, to His holy books, and to the religious holy places.
The Ummah’s “rage” then erupting into violence and killings worldwide, more than four months after the cartoons were published. As a reaction to this ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ jihad (‘struggle’), on 8 February a press release was issued by the Geneva Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stating that the Rapporteur on Racism (Doudou Diene), on Freedom of Religion or Belief (Asma Jahangir) and Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression (Ambeyi Ligabo) had called for tolerance and dialogue. They urged all parties:to refrain from any form of violence and to avoid fuelling hatred. They also encourage States to promote the interrelated and indivisible nature of human rights and freedoms and to advocate the use of legal remedies as well as the pursuance of a peaceful dialogue on matters which go to the heart of all multicultural societies. [“Human Rights Experts call for Tolerance & Dialogue on controversy over representations of Prophet Muhammad” http://www.unhchr.ch/huricane/huricane.nsf/view01/EC806806182D5F16C125710F0059C630?opendocument]
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Much water has passed under the bridge since then. In September 2008 “the most recently updated version of the OIC Observatory Report on Islamophobia” was submitted to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Right. A summary (Annex) appeared as document A/HRC/9/G/2 for the 9th session of the Human Rights Council (8 – 24 September). The first paragraph concludes:While Islam, as the religion of peace and tolerance, affirms moderation and balance and rejects all forms of extremism and terrorism, the proponents of Islamophobia continue their campaign in defaming Islam and Muslims. [http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G08/147/46/PDF/G0814746.pdf?OpenElement]
The latest contribution of the OIC to the “Ideology of Islamophobia” is a written “Note verbale from the Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the Office of the High Commissioner” (3 October): A/CONF.211/PC.3/10, for the Durban review Conference Preparatory Committee, now in session.
It is a rehash of the usual ‘points’ from Doudou Diène’s last Report to the Human Rights Council.
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At the expert seminar on 3 October, in a brief statement on behalf of the Association for World Education, David G. Littman referred to a remark by the Slovenian ambassador on the ambiguity of the term “toleration” (e.g – equivalent of dhimma = “protected” / “dhimmis” / “dhimmitude”).
Allow me, sir, to quote a sentence from a letter sent by George Washington (dated 17 August 1790) to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, in which he stated: “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.”
Pointing out that ad hominem attacks were often used at the Human Rights Council to have any embarrassing statement of fact by NGOs ruled ‘out of order’ by the president, I cited Egypt’s delegate, who went so far as to recommend – in a ‘point of order’ – that I should “find a hobby or grow a moustache or something.” [Amr Roshdy Hassan might have, subconsciously, had in mind an interview on Egyptian TV (11 July 2008) when Captain Sayyed Shahada, a member of ‘The Egyptian Unique Moustache Association’ said: “I respect the moustache of Hitler, because he humiliated the most despicable sect in the world. He subdued the people who subdued the whole world – him with his ‘11’ moustache.” (MEMRI, Special Dispatch Series No 2014, 5 August 2008)
My precise question followed:
To what extent should it be possible to provide FACTS that are true at the Council on Human Rights (or elsewhere, even here), which some delegations wish to suppress on the grounds that it touches on religion – and, in particular, the use of religion to justify certain actions which run counter to the human rights obligations of States? As expert Mr. Mogens Schmidt* just stated: “to be criminalized for statements that are true”.
We have written to the President and to the High Commissioner on this matter, but we would very much value the opinion of the experts on this crucial issue which – if allowed to stand – could soon become a dangerous precedent that would greatly penalize NGOs in the future at the Council, when they tried to address certain subjects considered ‘sensitive’ for some states.
* Despite quoting UNESCO Deputy Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, Division for Freedom of Expression, Democracy and Peace on a pertinent subject, no expert responded after the chairman (Mr. Bertie Ramcharan) stated, as I finished, that the subject being debated was not the Human Rights Council. In fact, the question asked was clearly much broader as mentioned.
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See the important statement by Roy W. Brown (of the International Humanist and Ethical Union: http://www.iheu.org/node/3295), in which he questions the position taken by the OIC Islamic States. And also the detailed statement by The Jacob Blaustein Institute on Human Rights of the American Jewish Committee and the International League for Human Rights.
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United Nations – Palais des Nations – Geneva – 2-3 October 2008
Expert seminar on the links between articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR): Freedom of expression and advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence
http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/opinion/articles1920_iccpr/index.htm (Objectives of the Meeting)
http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/opinion/articles1920_iccpr/list_experts.htm(List of the Experts)
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Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Adopted by General Assembly on 10 December 1948)
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
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International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Adopted 16 December 1966; legal: 1976)
Article 19 of the ICCPR provides that:
1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.”
Article 20 of the ICCPR provides that:
1. Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.
2. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.