Comments by David G. Littman, Representative at the UN (Geneva), Association for World Education and World Union for Progressive Judaism to the United Nations:
This is a follow-up to our September 4 article on the OIC Report on “Islamophobia”.
A joint statement was made by the author on the second morning of the 9th session of the UN Human Rights Council for 3 NGOs: the Association for World Education, the International Humanist and Ethical Union and the Center for Inquiry. [below] In her opening Address on September 8, the new High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stated:
(“¦) In particular, I refer to the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the Genocide Convention (“¦) we must focus on the challenges that remain in bringing to reality the comprehensive vision of human rights set forth in the Universal Declaration. This vision is a beacon of hope for the future (“¦)
We have to break the cycles of violence, the mobilization of fear, and the political exploitation of difference — ethnic, racial and religious difference. The Universal Declaration, and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, grew out of the Holocaust, but we have yet to learn the lesson of the Holocaust, as genocide continues (“¦)
Indeed, I am particularly pleased that the OHCHR will organize a seminar to further explore the implications of Articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We will focus on the balance between freedom expression and the need to enhance protection against incitement to hatred, discrimination, hostility or violence. We hope that this discussion will also provide guidance to States where, increasingly, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic communities coexist. (“¦) rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, which are indispensable to the functioning civil society, have come under sustained attack in all regions of the world.
[For the whole text, see here.]
Pakistan Ambassador Masood Khan (for the OIC), as first speaker, stated inter alia:
We welcome the High Commissioner’s renewed commitment to exploring the balance between freedom of expression and the need to enhance protection against incitement to hatred, discrimination, hostility or violence. Your predecessor [HCHR Louise Arbour] on June 2, 2008 stated that we must forcefully condemn all those deplorable and manipulative distortions that hide sinister purposes such as anti-Semitic or Islamophobic agendas. In this context, we welcome the seminar on the implications of Articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR which would help us develop a better understanding of the permissible limitations to freedom of expression by taking into account the mandatory prohibition of advocacy of religious hatred. (“¦)
The core principle of the Universal Declaration is universality of human rights, to state the obvious. This principle must be upheld. Universality subsumes relativism; it does not banish it. Taking to its extreme, relativism can undermine the international humanitarian law; but denial of cultural diversity is un unrealistic premise. We must avoid exceptionalism and extreme forms of relativism which are two sides of the same coin. (“¦)
Iranian Ambassador Hamid Baeidinejad began his statement with the customary:
“In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful” [Surat Fatihat Al-Kitab — see the entire surat and the traditional analysis concerning Christians and Jews], and concluded:
(“¦) we are of the view that in the process of commemorating the 60th anniversary of UDHR, alongside with all other fundamental rights enshrined in the Declaration, new impetus and fresh emphasis should be accorded to new phenomenon in our everyday lives which have the potentiality to leading to violation of human rights. The international community should take concrete measures, inter alia, to realize the right to development, to eradicate poverty, underdevelopment, marginalization, injustice, occupation and aggression, to combat Islamophobia and defamation of religions and to promote international cooperation as well as dialogue among cultures, religions. and civilizations.
For another report on this event and the comments made by President Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoobhi at a bureau meeting with NGOs after the debate on item 2, see IHEU here.
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ASSOCIATION FOR WORLD EDUCATION
INTERNATIONAL HUMANIST AND ETHICAL UNION
CENTER FOR INQUIRY
JOINT STATEMENT by Representative David G. LITTMAN (AWE) — 9 September (12:20am)
UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL — 9th Session (8–26 September 2008)
Annual Report of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights and Reports of the OHCHR (item 2)
[Words in brackets were not pronounced in the 3 minutes available]
Thank you, Mr. President. [This is a joint statement by the Association for World Education (AWE), the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and the Center for Inquiry — on the Address by Ms. Navanetham, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Opening of the 9th session of the HRC (“in particular, I refer to the 60th anniversaries of the UDHR.”)]
We congratulate you, sir, on your election and extend a hearty welcome to our new High Commissioner. As you stated, Madam, in your opening address: –¦ we must focus on the challenges that remain in bringing to reality the comprehensive vision of human rights as set forth in the Universal Declaration. This vision is a beacon of hope for the future”¦”
Madam, you personify for civil society and many here that Shakespeare line: “For now sits Expectation in the air.” The theme of the 60th anniversary of the UDHR is “dignity and justice for all”. In this context, we maintain that articles 18 on “the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” and 19 on “the right to freedom of opinion and expression” should be neither diminished nor qualified — other than as indicated in articles 29 and 30.
Six months ago, a veteran Paris-based NGO, the LICRA [Ligue Internationale Contre le Racisme et AntisÃ©mitisme/Inter- national League against Racism and Antisemitism] circulated a substantive statement worldwide signed by thousands [including Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel]: The United Nations versus Human Rights.* The title speaks volumes. [The key question it posed — and being asked more and more within civil society — is this: “Will 2008 be the year when the United Nations celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and simultaneously destroys its own principles? There is, indeed, cause for great concern because the institution has lost its own way in recent years, becoming a caricature of itself.”]
Surely, sir, it is time for this Council to resolve not to make any further concessions that weaken the principle of “dignity and justice for all.” The universal standards of the United Nations should be upheld, not watered down by cultural relativism or special pleading, nor should restrictions on human rights be dignified with the status of UN Regional Instruments.
We are making available our two joint NGO written statements on this subject: Sixty Years after the UDHR: Threats to the Universality of Human Rights [A/HRC/9/NGO/2]; and The Cairo Declaration and the Universality of Human Rights [A/HRC/7/NGO/96].
350 years ago, Spinoza attempted to substitute the concept of secular law for the 17th century European notions of the Deity as the source of law. On the triumph of “˜sectarians” — a term covering religious fundamentalists of all stripes — he was explicit. I quote:
–¦ inasmuch as concessions have been made to their animosity, [“¦] they have gained state sanction for the doctrines of which they are the interpreters. Hence they arrogate to themselves state authority and rights, and do not scruple to assert that they have been directly chosen by God and that their laws are Divine, whereas the laws of the state are human and should therefore yield obedience to the laws of God “” in other words, to their own laws.”
He concluded: –¦ in a free state every man may think what he likes and say what he thinks.” And: “I have thus shown [“¦] That it is impossible to deprive men of the liberty of saying what they think.” **
Mr President, we urge all participants at this Council to consider carefully the relevance of Spinoza’s words today.
Thank you, Sir.
* LICRA — Ligue Internationale Contre le Racisme et AntisÃ©mitism / International League against Racism and Antisemitism It was signed by many eminent personalities, including Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel. www.licra.org/news/pdf/get_file.php?file_name=the_united_nations_versus_human_rights__english_version_.pdf
** Conclusion of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 1670, by Baruch/Benedict de Spinoza, The Works of Spinoza, R.H.M. Elwes, I, chapter XX, pp. 257–66, New York: Dover, 1955]