Littman and Spencer: I have known a lion
Comments by David G. Littman, NGO Representative to the United Nations in Geneva of Association for World Education (AWE) / World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ):
Twenty years ago, the Ayatollah Khomeini and Salman Rushdie competed with St. Valentine at the 45th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights. The UN media was waiting for a reaction and nothing happened. I decided to
speak out as main representative for the World Union for Progressive Judaism.
I remember the Moroccan ambassador advising me amicably that, if I was determined to speak on the subject, it would be wise to avoid a direct mention of Khomeini by name, as it might be dangerous. I decided to speak under item 10 (on any form of detention or imprisonment) which began two days later. I prepared a text on hostage-taking and international terrorism, and was able to deliver it on February 17, before any State representative or NGO had done so (only one other NGO spoke on it briefly and four State delegates) I referred to the December 20, 1988 a meeting in the Carlton Hotel in Beirut where:
“the leaders of the seven most ruthless Middle East terrorist organizations met to unify their actions and decided that jihad would continue. The very next day, Pan Am Flight 103 — the “Maid of the Seas” — was blown out of the skies,
with the death of 259 persons in the air and 20 on the ground at Lockerbie in Scotland. This act of war was denounced as such by the civilized world.”
I then addressed the subject without mentioning Khomeini, but calling a spade a spade and a Fatwa a Fatwa. Later, I decided to take the floor a second time (March 2) and a third time (March 7). Spain spoke briefly for the EU on February 22, the UK on the 27th, and the USA on March 6, France the 8th, both very briefly.
Below — for the historical record — are the relevant passages from our 3 statements, which were then published (Human Rights and Human Wrongs, No. 6, WUPJ, 1989)/
Statement by David Littman at the Commission (17 February 1989, item 10)
All is known! It has been known for years! –every national leader knows who is behind the hostage-taking, the hijacking, the blowing-up of planes, in short: which are the groups, the States behind international terrorism. Why the hypocrisy? Why the cowardice of the West, the East, the Third World, the Fourth World — the International Community as a whole? Why the evasion of the plain truth about international terrorism’s root? Why the refusal to take a moral decision, followed by economic and political sanctions to neutralize the beast?
Sir, it is time, high time, that the politico-theological ideologies underpinning these despicable organizations are denounced publicly by the international community and by spiritual leaders worldwide.
* * *
Mr Chairman, there is related matter, presently on all our minds, widely covered in the media, which I dare not refer to directly as it is a death-threatening situation. Even I, who have been so outspoken here on so many matters, will not evoke the details surrounding a recent incident, concerning a particular book and its auto-da-fÃ¨. One is reminded of the medieval assassins, for whom, according to a [Muslim] devout of the times: “To shed the blood of a heretic is more meritorious than to kill seventy Greek infidels.” (Bernard Lewis, The Assassins, 1967, page 48)
This matter is not alien to this Commission, it has been considered annually since 1984; and by resolution 1988/37 the Commission requested the Sub-Commission to continue to consider, within the framework of its mandate (I shall quote from the provisional Agenda on item 10):
“The right to freedom of opinion and expression as laid down in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and to make recommendations to the Commission at its forty-fifth session on further measures which might be required at national and international levels to promote and safeguard that right.”
Mr Chairman, the immediate reaction from a senior scholar at the renowned Al Azhar University and by a leading Islamic scholar at Cairo University are welcome. Better still is the statement by Egyptian Noble Prize Laureate Naguib Mahfouz, who declared:
“The idea of killing someone because of what he wrote is rejected in principle. I consider it intellectual terrorism. The book, whatever its subject is. and whatever its faults are, has to be discussed so the faults can be discussed in a democratic way” (International Herald Tribune 16 Feb. 1989)
Mr Chairman, I appeal to the members of this Commission on behalf of my organization — the World Union for Progressive Judaism — to pass a resolution by consensus if possible on this matter, inspired by the statement exÂ¬pressed two days ago by one of the great writers of our time, Naguib Mahfouz, the pride of Egypt.
Sir, silence, here and now, would make of us all the accomplices of terrorism and tyranny. This Commission has a duty to act, however ineffective such a resolution may seem to be in these particular circumstances.
[In his address to the Commission on 22 February, the Foreign Minister of Spain (Mr. Francisco Fernandez Ordonez), speaking on behalf of the Twelve-Member States of the European Community, briefly referred to the 20 February Declaration of the Twelve regarding the case of Salmon Rushdie. (E/CN.4/19891SR.33). In his Statement on 27 February, the representative of the United Kingdom (Mr. Henry Steel) spoke, inter alia, on “the death threats which have been made by Ayatollah Khomeini to Mr. Salman Rushdie and his publishers’: (14 February) He quoted at length Secretary of State Sir Geoffrey Howe’s comments on 26 February, following a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Twelve, and from the 20 February Declaration by the Foreign Ministers of the Twelve. (E/CN.4/1989/SR.39). In his introduction to his report, the Special Rapporteur on Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Mr. Amos Wako, referred to this matter and “supported the Secretary-General’s appeal to the government concernÂ¬ed in the allegation’: (E/CN.4/1989/SR.45). See the two “rights of reply” on 28 February by the representatives of Iran and Libya (E/CN.4/1989/SR.45), the latter referring directly to the Statement (17 February) by World Union for Progressive Judaism.]
Statement by David G. Littman at the Commission (2 March 1989, item 12)
Sir, I had the privilege to raise a specific matter on 17 February, under item 10, in relation to: “The right of freedom of opinion and expression.” I am, of course, referring to an event concerning a book and a chilling death sentence which, three weeks later, still haunts and troubles the world. A Rushdie ricochet has just occurred in Paris, with yet another death menace for a French singer, Vbronique Sanson, because of a song — a song with a misunderstood, compassionate prayer (IHT, 2 March 1989). Sir, this is but one more foretaste of a bitter cup whose potent contents were made crystal clear to the international community on 7 December 1984, when the representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran reiterated to the UN General Assembly his government’s position. I shall quote the official summary record:
It [the Iranian government] recognizes no authority nor power but that of Almighty God, and no legal tradition apart from Islamic law. As his delegation had already stated at the thirty-sixth session of the General Assembly, conventions, declarations and resolutions or decisions of international organizations, which were contrary to Islam, had no validity in the Islamic Republic of Iran… The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which represented a secular understanding of the Judeo-Christian traditions, could not be implemented by Muslims and did 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.” (A/C.3/39/SR.65)
Mr Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, the Special Rapporteur, has analyzed this pertinent dichotomy in his 1988 Report. (E/CN.4/1988/24)
Mr Chairman, almost exactly fifty years ago, during that inglorious period of appeasement, fear stalked the streets of Europe — and the stage of history. At that time, Adolph Hitler was then burning books, imprisoning and killing his opponents and trying to impose his ideology on others. Winston Churchill’s reflections are worth recalling:
Is he going to try to blow up the world or not? The world is a very heavy thing to blow up! An extraordinary man at a pinnacle of power may create a great explosion, and yet the civilised world may remain unshaken. The enormous fragments and splinters may clatter down upon his own head and destroy him… but the world will go on.”
— Speech at the City Carlton Club, London, 28 June 1939
Sir, on 17 February I appealed to this Commission to pass a resolution on this matter. I ended on a somber note:
“Silence, here and now, would make of us all the accomplices of terrorism and tyranny. This Commission has a duty to act, however ineffective such a resolution may seem to be in these particular circumstances.”
A fortnight has gone by and still no resolution has been proposed, let alone passed. Only one Member State has intervened on this subject: the United Kingdom. Sir, when all around us there is courage, let it not be said of the forty-fifth session of this Commission on Human Rights, as it was written 2,500 years ago in the Book of Daniel (5:25/27):
And this is the writing that was written:
MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN…
Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.
[The representative of a non-governmental organization, the International League for Human Rights (Ms. Felice Gaer), referred to the case of Salman Rushdie in a Statement on 2 March. (E/CN.4/1989/SR.47/Add.1)
The representative of the United States of America, Ambassador Vernon Walters, made a brief reference to the “Rushdie Affair” in a long statement on 6 March. (E/CN.4/1989/SR.51)]
Statement by David G. Littman at the Commission (7 March 1989, item 21)
Madam, a basic human right is: “The right to freedom of opinion and expression as laid down in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” A World Statement has been signed by writers from over 40 countries and has been published with their signatures in many of the leading newspapers on 2 March 1989. This World Statement is being circulated at this Commission for endorsement by NGOs. I am referring, for the last time here, to what will go down in history as the “Rushdie Affair”. Two days ago, Ahmed Jebril’s PLO-Popular Front [for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command / PFLP-GC] vowed to kill Salman Rushdie. His Master’s Voice from Libya [Moammar Gaddafi] echoed that call. Thus, the same trio of suspects [Iran, Syria, Libya] in the 21 December terrorist explosion of the Pan Am Flight 103, “Maid of the Seas”, over Lockerbie in Scotland, are again agitating their death-like pirate’s skull-and-crossbones emblem. In Europe in general, in France in particular, governments are expecting the worst and the media are preparing their civilian populations to endure more arbitrary killings, more horrors from international terrorism.
I shall conclude by again quoting famous lines, spoken by a famous man, then a maverick crying out in the political wilderness – a sort of super NGO of his time:
I have watched this famous island descending incontinently, recklessly, the stairway which leads to a dark gulf. (*) It is a fine broad stairway at the beginning, but, after a bit, the carpet ends. A little further on there are only flagstones, and. a little further on still, these break beneath your feet.
— Speech in the House of Commons, 24 March 1938
Madam, the words are clearly those of Winston Churchill. The date: 24 March 1938. The “famous island” was, of course, Great Britain. Yet, the image in the mind’s eye of many of us here is of this Commission continuing its desÂ¬cent down the broad stairway into the dark gulf of silence! However, there is a silver lining. In the introduction to his Report (E/CN.4/1989/25), the Special Rapporteur on Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Mr. Amos Wako, referred publicly on 1 March at the Commission to this call for an arbitrary execution, which he declared fell within his mandate. He pointed out that:
The Human Rights Committee has observed that arbitrary killings are forbidden and the law must strictly control and limit the circumstances in which a person may be deprived of his life.” He reminded the Commission that: “The right to life is a right from which all other rights flow. Life should only be taken away after due process of the law and I support the appeal of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to the government concerned.
This reminder, that: “The right to life is a right from which all other rights flow”: should preface any human rights teaching booklet in preparation, pursuant to Commission resolution 1986/54. Madam, where this Commission has been silent, the Special Rapporteur and the Human Rights Committee have not. It is to be hoped that the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran will shortly give a response to this clear message by the SR on Summary or Arbitrary Executions.
I began by quoting French Prime Minister Michel Rocard on the role of the NGOs:
Quand les Etats se taisent, les ONG parlent. (When Governments keep silent, the NGOs speak.”] I shall conclude by again quoted his words of 5 March, reported in today’s Le Monde.
L”appel a l’assassinat et au meurtre est une honte et un scandale (…) la libertÃ© de press,. d’Ã©criture et de pensÃ©e est totale au regard des droits de l’homme dans les sociÃ©tÃ©s dÃ©mocratiques.” (“The call for assassination and murder is a shame and a scandal (…) Freedom of the press, writing and thought is total with respect to human rights in democratic societies”].
(*) The speaker was interrupted by the representative of Iraq (through a demonstrative hand-waive from the representative of Libya) on a “point of order”, as indicated by an asterisk. The Chair (the Vice-Chairman of the Commission, Mrs Zagorka Ilic of Yugoslavia) allowed the speaker to complete his Statement.
See polemical “right of reply”, representative of Libya the same evening, (E/CN.4/1989/SR.53/Add.2)
The representative of France (Ambassador Jacques Leprette) made a brief reference to this subject in a statement of 8 March, without mentioning by name either the Imam Khomeini or Selman Rushdie. (E/CH.4/1989/SR.55/Add.1)
See two letters by DGL in the IHT (21 March 1989) and the Nouvel Observaleur (13-19 April 1989).