From David G. Littman, latest comments and waking dreams at the United Nations-Geneva:
In 1816, Shelley and 19 year old Mary Godwin were staying at the Villa Diodati overlooking the Lake of Geneva with Lord Byron, who suggested they each write a supernatural tale. The result was Frankenstein — created by Mary in a waking dream — “when I first stepped out from childhood into life.” Yesterday, when I was interviewed about the new Human Rights Council and the forthcoming Durban Review Conference on Racism, while standing on the balcony of the 8th floor of the Palais des Nations, I had this image in my mind’s eye while I gazed toward the Mont Blanc and the Villa Diodati: an image of Frankenstein stomping around the Palais des Nations before his final trek to the North Pole. The TV interviewer, who knew the academic dÃ©cor well, liked that vivid picture. Little did we think then that soon an incident at the ongoing Durban Preparatory Committee would soon confirm this Boris Karloff scenario.
Hardly had the Thursday afternoon meeting begun than members from the African and Asian Groups (comprised of many OIC Member States) requested the Russian president not to allow any more filming of the meeting. This authorization had been granted by the UN authorities in the customary manner to the well-known French-German TV station ARTE. They — Caroline Fourest and her cameraman — were then requested publicly by the president to cease filming and recording. As someone from AFP was present at that moment, their “˜story” on this event was picked up worldwide in both French and English. Below is their text in English:
GENEVA, Jan 22, 2009 — 19h53 (AFP) – A television production crew was expelled Thursday from a United Nations meeting discussing freedom of expression and defamation of religions.
Two journalists from the French-German cultural channel ARTE were asked to leave a meeting room at the UN’s European headquarters during a public session of a human rights body preparing for a racism conference in South Africa later this year.
The journalists were working on a documentary on how the issue of human rights is debated at the United Nations.
According to a diplomatic source, the expulsion announced by the chairman of the session, Russian representative Yuri Boychenko, was requested by the Organisation of Islamic Conference and by the African group of states.
“It is regrettable that he was not informed of the procedures that allow a public session to become a private one,” Marie Heuze, chief spokeswoman at the UN in Geneva said.
The expulsion took place when the debate was raging on freedom of expression and the defamation of religions, two issues which are proving particularly sensitive in a proposed declaration for the conference in Durban, South Africa.
According to Muslim participants, human rights should take into account defamation of religions, while the Europeans are opposed to its inclusion.
A British delegate said any mention of this concept in the resolution “damages the prospects” of a successful conference in Durban.
According to a diplomatic source, at least three European countries — Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands, have threatened to boycott the conference if the resolution is accepted.
The United States, Canada and Israel have already said they would not attend the event, which is scheduled to take place April 20 to 24.
The earlier 2001 Durban conference on racism, held just a few days before the September 11 attacks on the United States and against the backdrop of the second Palestinian intifada, ended in acrimony amid accusations of anti-Semitism.
This AFP report led to a certain excitement at the Friday morning meeting with the OIC delegate insisting it was not they who had requested the cessation. As recorded by the Swiss ATS in its Friday follow-up, it was alleged to have been the African and Asian groups who requested the ARTE ouster, with the European Union appealing against. The secretariat of the HCHR excused the “lack of clarity” and regretted the “general confusion”, which led to the departure of the two French journalists on Thursday evening. At a special UN press Conference President Youri Boychenko recognized that a mistake had been made and that journalists and cameramen were, indeed, authorized to assist at public sessions. He said that the intention was not to diminish freedom of expression. At the end of Thursday”s afternoon session, I had learned directly from the president on the podium — the only person to ask him outright for an explanation about this very serious matter — that he felt it preferable to give way to these demands as there were many signs of agitation by other delegates and he wished to avoid exposing the Committee meeting to an extended debate on the subject and a “˜vote”. I later stated that such an “˜automatic vote” would have brought shame upon the United Nations (this was quoted in the ATS dispatch). The ARTE journalist intended to film me as I took the floor on behalf of the Association for World Education toward the end of the meeting to speak on several topics under debate — especially as I might be stopped on “˜point of order” as usual. This, indeed, happened, but could not be filmed because of the president’s prior decision..
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During the process of negotiations on and drafting of the Durban Review document, the varying views — on “˜freedom of expression”, “˜defamation of religion”, “˜Islamophobia”, “˜the holocaust” — from delegates of the OIC Member States and others were in total contradiction with those of Western democracies. The case of Geert Wilders was raised as an example and the Dutch delegate felt obliged to respond by insisting that Wilders would be tried on the legal grounds of incitement to hatred, not “˜defamation of Islam”. The Syrian representative went so far as to quibble over the number of Jews killed under the “˜Holocaust” in the document’s clause 29 — why mention “one- third” of all Jews?. The Iranian delegate stressed that it was against the concept of freedom of expression to disallow doubts about the holocaust. All this at the United Nations discussing universal human rights with Frankenstein treading constantly in the background. It was soon after the Iranian had spoken that NGOs were given the floor.
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Statement by David G. Littman on behalf of the Association for World Education (5:30pm)
We would like to add a comment on the question of freedom of expression in general, which was summed up 350 years ago by Spinoza in the conclusion to Tractatus Theologico-Politicus:
In a free state every man may think what he likes and say what he thinks. It is impossible to deprive men of the liberty saying what they think.
This was confirmed by Libyan Ambassador Najat A-Hajjaji when in June 2003 she addressed — as Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission — Special Rapporteurs, Representatives, Independent Experts and others. Here are her words, which we have quoted several times orally and in written statements:
Speak freely as you have done in the past. Continue to do so in the interest of truth, of justice, irrespective of the pressure that is brought to bear upon you by Governments. Even if what you say is contrary to the interests of the Government, there are thousands, millions of victims, who look upon this Commission, the special procedures as the conscience of humanity. Stand firm. Let nothing stand in the way of truth.
Earlier, at our request, she had warned all participants at that 2003 Commission session that she would not tolerate ad hominem personal attacks on any speakers, and she kept her word. Hopefully, this will be the rule here and at the Durban Review Conference in April, and at the Human Rights Council.
We agree with the critical statement of the UK delegate on “˜Defamation of Religion” [that this concept was unacceptable]. Censorship began at the Commission in April 1997 with what became known as the “˜Blasphemy Affair.” This was followed by a “˜Defamation of Islam” OIC resolution, which in 1999 became “˜Defamation of Religions”, although only Islam is mentioned. Yet, on December 19, 2008, the OIC organized a Conference here for the 60th anniversary of the UDHR Conference at which two books — defaming Judaism throughout — were available. We made a public complaint on 12 January to the Secretary-General, the Director-General, the Council President, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Director-General of UNESCO, as these books were published by the OIC”s ISESCO [Islamic Educational, Socilal, Cultural Organization], which has direct links to UNESCO.
We agree entirely with the position of the Czech delegate, speaking on behalf of the European Union, on the reference to the Holocaust, which should be modified in regard to A/RES/60/7 and 61/255, adding: “Rejects any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event, either in full or part.” Also it should use the term: “Reaffirming,” instead of simply “Affirms“. The comment by the delegate of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the holocaust is revealing in view of the fact that only four days ago Reuters reported from Teheran that, and I quote:
A student-linked Iranian publisher plans to launch English — and Arabic — language versions of a book of caricatures and satirical writings about the Holocaust (“¦) The book deals with the “big historical distortion” of the Holocaust”¦. [Interruption by the president on a “˜point of order” by Iran, complaining that the speaker was off the subject and should not name a particular country. This was absurd as other countries were named in the course of the debate. The president then gave the floor back to the speaker, requesting me politely to stick to the subject and to conclude rapidly.]
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I shall, Sir — in referring directly to the subject.
Two days ago, in an Urgent Appeal to the Secretary-General, the Director-General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights [HEAR: Seminar on the Prevention of Genocide, Jan. 21, 2009, by OHCHR] and other dignitaries, we referred to this solemn moment — The International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust — and asked for all to heed the words and the constant acts of a certain President’s “direct and public incitement” [I did not name Muhammad Ahmadinejad & cite article 3 (c ) of the Genocide Convention] to annihilate a Member State. Those who drafted the 1948 Convention on the Prevention of Genocide had in memory the long incitement to hatred against the Jews by the Nazi leadership. Few took the Nazis seriously in the mid-1930s and did not foresee that hate constantly repeated would lead to systematic genocide. This Iranian book of caricatures and satirical writings on the Holocaust is more writing on the wall. It should inspire this Durban Preparatory Committee to remain firm.
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I had been greatly tempted to refer, jokingly, to “Frankenstein” — as a Parthian shot — but adopted a diplomatic tone in order not to lose entirely my waking dreaming in sheer drama.