NGOs “˜Appeal” to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to:
— demand the immediate release of British teacher Gillian Gibbons (a request that was soon granted);
— call attention to Human Rights Day (December 10) and ongoing Darfur genocide.
A report by David G. Littman, Representative of the Association for World Education (AWE) and the World Union of Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) to the UN in Geneva:
This letter was faxed to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour just before midnight on Sunday, 2 December, and then circulated widely at the UN in Geneva. Since then Gillian Gibbons has been “pardoned”, but the grim genocide in Darfur continues — while attention was focused on a farcical act of dhimmitude. If the Council on Human Rights does not seriously address Darfur and the Special Rapporteur’s mandate on Sudan during the Human Rights Day week, then one might well proclaim: “Something is rotten in the state of”¦” — the Human Rights Council.
3 December 2007
We are writing to draw your urgent attention to two issues concerning Sudan:
a) the continuing genocide in Darfur and the obstruction of the Government of Sudan at attempts to deploy a UN-African Union peacekeeping force;
b) the trial and sentence imposed on 54 year old British school-teacher, Mrs. Gillian Gibbons, for allegedly insulting Islam and Muslims.
In your lecture at Trinity College Dublin only ten days ago, you referred to “an emerging doctrine known as responsibility to protect” — the central theme of the 2006 high level mission to Darfur, authorized by the Human Rights Council — and you proposed “to focus on the content of this norm”. You also offered to “examine the legal heart of the responsibility to protect concept and questions of when and how the norm is engaged. In your analysis of the situation, you laid stress on the following point:
Rooted in human rights and international humanitarian law, the norm squarely embraces the victims’ point of view and interests, rather than questionable State-centred motivations. It does so by configuring a permanent duty to protect individuals against abusive behaviour. Such duty is a function of sovereignty and should be fulfilled primarily by the State concerned.
The ongoing genocide in Darfur is a good example for testing this valid “norm”. As a joint UN-African Union peace-keeping force of 26″000 is waiting to move, the UN Secretary-General stated last week that he is “mobilizing all possible means” to get the Government of Sudan to agree on key issues so they can start deploying in Darfur next month, but there was no mention of any “doctrine to protect” — merely that he was “disappointed with all that is happening now.” Yet Sudan’s President Omer Hassan al-Bashir has consistently resisted any UN peacekeepers to replace the overwhelmed 7,000-strong African Union force now in Darfur where over 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been displaced since 2003.
At such a crucial moment for Darfur, it is ironic that a British primary school teacher has been imprisoned under Sudan’s strict blasphemy laws for showing “contempt and disrespect against the believers”. She was accused of insulting Islam’s holiest prophet and arrested for permitting her pupils to decide, by ballot, the name for a teddy bear — and they chose to call it “˜Mohammed”.
Gillian Gibbons” innocent action sparked protests in Sudan, violent demonstrations and calls for her death, forcing the school’s closure. It is clear from reliable reports, however, that she had absolutely no intention of insulting either Islam or Muslims. The “norm” embraces the victim’s viewpoint.
Nearly 14 years ago, on 18 February 1994, the ambassador of Sudan at the Commission on Human Rights requested (E/CN.4/1994/122) the immediate withdrawal from a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Sudan, Gaspar Biro, of any reference to inconsistencies between the international human rights conventions and the provisions of Sudan’s Criminal Law. The ambassador alleged that this report (E/CN.4/1994/48) “contained abusive, inconsiderate, blasphemous and offensive remarks about the Islamic faith.” Death threats against Dr. Biro appeared in a government newspaper, Horizon (AFP, 14 February 1994). A further Sudanese circular (“Attack on Islam”) was circulated to all delegates; it claimed that parts of the report “represent a vicious attack on the religion of Islam and contain a call for the abolition of its Islamic Penal Legislation.” Nevertheless, the Commission adopted resolution 1994/79, firmly calling on the Government of Sudan “to comply with applicable international human rights instruments and to bring its national legislation into accordance with the instruments to which Sudan was a party.” Subsequently, this call to Sudan was repeated by Commission resolutions adopted for five consecutive years — in 1995/77, 1996/73; 1997/59, 1998/69 and 1999/15. In 1996, Sudan felt obliged to allow the Special Rapporteur’s return — but in 2007 the case of Gillian Gibbons shows that nothing has changed in Sudan’s Criminal Law.
We learn from the website of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that:
On 10 December, Human Rights Day, the Secretary-General will launch a year-long campaign in which all parts of the United Nations family will take part in the lead up to the 60th birthday of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The theme of the campaign, Dignity and justice for all of us, reinforces the vision of the Declaration as a commitment to universal dignity and justice.
Aware that you will be visiting Brazil from 3-5 December, we are nevertheless making this “˜Appeal” jointly on behalf of our four NGOs — and their more than seven million members worldwide — requesting you to:
a) Demand of Sudan’s Government the immediate release of Mrs. Gillian Gibbons and her repatriation to the United Kingdom;
b) Request the Human Rights Council to address this and the worsening situation in Darfur at the outset of the 2nd part of its 6th Session (10-14 December), and under item 3, covering: Review, rationalization and improvement of mandates: Special Rapporteur on Sudan.
RenÃ© V.L. Wadlow
David G. Littman
Roy W. Brown
NGO Representatives to the United Nations, Geneva (c/o Case Postale 205, 1196 Gland)