Free speech is under fire everywhere these days, and not surprisingly, that goes for the UN as well. At the UN in Geneva, at a meeting of an Intergovernmental Working Group on the effective implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, David G. Littman, a representative of the Association for World Education, was prevented by the Chairman, Ambassador Juan Martabit of Chile, from mentioning Sudan and Iran in connection with human rights abuses. Said Martabit: “I”m going to be very blunt with you, and with everyone — if we”re going to get into a country situation debate here at this Working Group, we will not make any progress.”
What kind of progress Martabit hopes to make by covering up for these countries is unclear.
From the verbatim transcript, courtesy the International Humanist and Ethical Union:
Mr. Littman, I think again your points are related specifically to countries where you may [incoherent words by interpretor], that you have every right to consider that there are problems of human rights, but please do not cite those countries in this room. I”m going to be as frank as possible because we”re not going to get anywhere. The delegate of Iran is making a “˜point of order.” She is right because she is going to respond, then you are going to respond and we”re not going to get anywhere. Mr. Littman, listen to me, and all delegates. I”m here to contribute in my humble way, with my time and my competence, to build bridges, to deal with extremely complex issues. I don’t think that anyone”¦everyone has the right to deal with problems, but please do not cite specific countries. You have mentioned Professor Doudou DiÃ¨ne and I will ask Doudou DiÃ¨ne to respond to the questions you have raised. Your problems with Sudan and Iran please raise them in a different meeting, not here. I”m going to be very blunt with you, and with everyone — if we”re going to get into a country situation debate here at this Working Group, we will not make any progress. This doesn’t mean that I am excluding or turning a blind eye to the problems that exist in different countries. If you have any positive examples to cite, you could mention those, but please do not create an atmosphere that would create tension and which will send us into a deadlock. I hope that you”ve finished Mr. Littman. Thank you very much. I will like to ask Prof. Doudou DiÃ¨ne”¦
Mr. Littman (microphone button not pressed, but his voice is just audible on the tape):
You have cut me, Sir. I am taking part in a debate next month in Holland regarding what is happening at the United Nations. To be stopped on such an issue, when I have not yet begun, is such that — after 20 years experience at the UN — I find incredible! Sir, if you allow me to continue, I shall be careful not to name another State.
OK, continue, please, but please don’t mention any crucial issues of the international agenda of today by the name of the country. Continue, please.