Comments on the second day (2nd Part, 6th Session) of the Human Rights Council by David G. Littman, NGO Representative of Association for World Education (AWE) and World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) to the UN Office in Geneva:
On December 11, we attempted to deliver a statement on the second day of the renewed 6th session of the Human Rights Council. Having received a copy beforehand of our joint statement, the HRC president, Ambassador Toru Romulus da Costea of Roumania, sent his assistant to advise us — to our great surprise — that the theme addressed was outside the scope of the interactive dialogue, which was now concentrated on the “rectification of the legal status of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)”. We asked that the president consult the Annotations to the Agenda (A/HRC/6/1/Add.2), the only written information on the matter available to delegates. It states, under Â§35, that: “In the same resolution [4/7 of 30 March 2007], the Council decided to convene in its last session in 2007 an interactive dialogue highlighting the importance of the principles of universality and indivisibility and the primacy of human rights, with a view to deciding on the future direction of this process.” When inscribing our two NGOs on December 10, we informed the NGO liaison officer of the theme of our joint statement, specifically referred to agenda Â§35, even showing our text — nothing was hidden — but we were not informed then that it was an inappropriate subject to address under item 3. This notwithstanding, the president’s assistant made it very clear that if the president’s advice was not accepted for our joint statement it would be considered “out of order” in this context — since all the State delegates had spoken only on “the legal status of the CESCR” (Â§34) .We made it crystal clear to him that we preferred to uphold NGO rights under article 19 of the UDHR: “the right to freedom of opinion and expression” — clearly within the context of the “˜Draft programme of Work” (version November 29), as indicated in the Order of the Day under : “Item 3 (cont”d). Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. Rectification of the legal status of the CESCR” — as in Â§35 of the Annotated Agenda, this being pertinent to the subject of the joint statement, to be delivered on behalf of the WUPJ and the IHEU.
Being the first speaker on the NGO list, David G. Littman was then given the floor, but soon was interrupted by the president — the first time is indicated by an asterisk. He was finally requested not to continue with his statement and the floor was then given to the next speaker. The passages actually pronounced by Littman are in bold type. This and the “˜exchanges” with the president were filmed by the UN technicians as is customary, and are available on the website of the OHCHR”s website — section HRC.
Neither the president, secretary, or NGO liaison officer are to blame for this situation. Later, it was made clear to the speaker that a “˜point of order” from several Member States was inevitable in such a case, and was already being manifested to the president before he cut off the speaker in order to avoid lengthy recriminations thereby saving time for NGOs.
The passages that were actually pronounced by the speaker have been put in bold type.
The first intervention by the president is marked by an asterisk. The passages in brackets could not have been pronounced within the three minutes time allotted, but they are retained in smaller type, as in the statement given to the Secretariat. At the fourth intervention, the speaker was not allowed to continue — this is indicated in the text below.
A 2nd joint statement was made later on Darfur when the speaker was not stopped.
Statement by David G. Littman on Tuesday, December 11 (a.m.)
Theme: “Interactive dialogue highlighting the importance of the principles of universality and indivisibility and the primacy of all human rights.”
Mr. President, this is a joint statement [on behalf of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) and the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)]
Sir, we welcome this interactive dialogue on, inter alia, “the importance of the principles of universality and indivisibility and the primacy of human rights”, as referred to specifically in Â§35 of the Annotations to the Agenda, which makes our statement 100% relevant to this dialogue.*
* * * * *
We realise that such idealistic goals are utopian, as they can be nullified by devious attempts to redefine human rights. The reasons given for non-compliance are often based on “cultural relativism” — with religious overtones. For example, the Islamic Republic of Iran has always had major objections to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which were expressed and recorded in 1981 two years after the Islamic Revolution, and again on 7 December 1984 at the UN General Assembly”s Third Committee [A/C.3/39/SR.65, Â§91-95]. It is worth pondering those words quoted in our text as Iran’s position has not changed an iota:
[The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which represents a secular understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition, cannot be implemented by Muslims and does not accord with the system of values recognized by the Islamic Republic of Iran.; his country would therefore not hesitate to violate its provisions, since it had to choose between violating the divine law of the country and violating secular conventions.]
On 28 December 1989 [– the year of Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie –] a Committee of Legal Experts, meeting in Teheran for the Nineteenth Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers, sponsored a “Declaration of Human Rights in Islam”, adopted in Cairo in 1990. It established shari”a law as “the only source of reference” for the protection of human rights in Islamic lands, thus giving it supremacy over the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
[The speaker was not allowed to continue beyond this sentence.]
We were surprised that Pakistan’s Ambassador Masood Khan speaking yesterday morning on behalf of the OIC, claimed that the Cairo Declaration was “not an alternative competing worldview on human rights”, but failed to mention shari”a law as “the only source of reference” (articles 24 and 25) in that same Declaration — the shari”a law where there is no equality between Muslim men and women, and between Muslims and non-Muslims.
[The universality of human rights was again called into question when on 18 January 2006, the OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu: “denounced and strongly disapproved the recurrence of the publication of blasphemous and insulting caricatures of Prophet Mohammed.” One 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.]
The Final CommuniquÃ© of the Third Extraordinary Session of the Islamic Summit held in Mecca (7-8 December 2005), was covered by the media only in regard to the threats by President Ahmadinejad against Israel, but it provides a clear message about the OIC position on the UN system of human rights and the Islamic interpretation of human rights:
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.* This was re-confirmed in May 2007 in Islamabad, as indicated by Ambassador Khan yesterday.
Madam High Commissioner, Mr President, it is 62 years since the horrors of the Second World War and the founding of the United Nations: a body often more “˜Divided” regionally, politically and spiritually, than “˜United.” The principal aim of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights was to create a framework for a world society. That society needed and still needs universal codes based on mutual consent in order to function. We must remain vigilant to prevent these international standards being challenged and eroded by those who call into question the essential universality of human rights — at the United Nations or elsewhere. By so doing, we shall be honouring the memory of RenÃ© Cassin, Charles Malek and Eleonore Roosevelt who inspired us all with this beacon of light.
Thank you Mr. President.
* http://www.oic-oci.org/ex-summit/english/fc-eexsumm-en.htm. See, II. In the Political Field, Â§13.
Statement by David G. Littman on Tuesday, December 11 (p.m.)
DARFUR: Our “˜Watchman” (HCHR) must blow the trumpet loud
Mr. President, this is a joint statement on behalf of 5 NGOs [the Association for World Education (AWE), Association of World Citizens (AWC), World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), and B”nai B”rith International.]
Sir, we are intervening regarding Council resolution OM/1/3, and resolution 4/8 of 30 March 2007.
[Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has launched a year’s campaign for the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The theme, Dignity and justice for all of us, reinforces the vision of the UDHR as a commitment to universal dignity and justice.]
[We should never forget that the Universal Declaration was adopted on 10 December, the day after the adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.]
We wish to thank and congratulate Ms. Sima Samar [Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Sudan] for her very lucid statement and the remarkably comprehensive report by her team.
On 7 April 2004, here at the Palais, then Secretary-General Kofi Annan solemnly declared: “We must never forget our collective failure to protect at least 800,000 defenceless men, women and children who perished in Rwanda ten years ago”¦we must all acknowledge our responsibility for not having done more to prevent or stop genocide.” Nearly 4 years later, “never” is again “ever”.
Madam High Commissioner, in your lecture last month at Trinity College Dublin — my alma mater — you stressed that: “rooted in human rights and international humanitarian law” there is now a “norm” “an emerging doctrine known as responsibility to protect”. You then expressed a desire “to focus on the content of this norm” — indeed, this was the central theme of the 2006 High-level Mission to Darfur authorised by the Council. The brutal, ongoing genocide in Darfur is an important test of this “norm”.
[As a joint UN-African Union peace-keeping force of 26″000 is waiting to move, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently stated 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 then of a “responsibility to protect”, although he stated clearly that he was “disappointed with all that is happening now.” Yet President Omer Hassan al-Bashir has consistently resisted the deployment of 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 cruelly displaced since 2003.]
Today, we wish again to express our deep anxiety for the future of the Human Rights Council. We have expressed this concern on numerous occasions — especially in the 23 May 2006 letter to you on Darfur, signed by 43 NGOs, which concluded with a prediction, now widely recognised by the international community: “We believe that the role of the new Human Rights Council will be, in part, tested by the way the Darfur conflict is faced.”
We again appeal to you Madam High Commissioner, to the 47 member States of the Council and to all delegations and NGOs, to do everything in your power to halt the continuing genocide in Darfur. A week ago, Arte TV devoted 2 hours to this ghastly tragedy, with two moving documentary films and a debate. Only yesterday, Sudan expert Prof. Eric Reeves published a powerful warning in the IHT, entitled, “Hobbling the UN in Darfur”, concluding: “Unamid must succeed. If it does not, how long it will be before Darfur slides into cataclysmic destruction, with no means of halting the slide. This is the stark choice before the inter-national community: Is it prepared to see the mission fail? Or will it rally the resources and exert the pressure on Khartoum, both of which are critical to the mission’s success.”
Madam, Mr. President, We must never forget Darfur!
At this moment of great anxiety worldwide, we call on you, Madam, to address all delegates on this, perhaps fateful, occasion. You are our watchman who, as in the Book of Ezekiel, sees the sword approaching and must blow the trumpet loud and clear so that all people will hear that sound and react.
Thank you, Madam, Mr. President, and all delegates and representatives, for your close attention.