“Freedom of thought, opinion and expression should not be curtailed at the United Nations by auto-censorship, as a result of doctrinal accusations of ‘blasphemy’ …” (19 May 1998 warning from AWE)
Comments by David G. Littman, NGO Representative to the United Nations in Geneva for the Association for World Education and the World Union for Progressive Judaism:
On April 7, 2009, Jihad Watch published my article on “OIC Stealth Jihad at UN Human Rights Bodies,” in which I referred to Robert Spencer’s FrontPage piece on “The UN’s Jihad Against Free Speech“. In a recent update [HERE], “U.S. co-sponsors anti-free speech resolution at the UN: Free speech death watch”, he blasts the Human Rights Council resolution on freedom of expression (links to AP and EugÃ¨ne Voloque in the Huffington Post).
Yet 11 years ago, on 19 May 1998, the Association for World Education wrote a detailed letter to the Chairman of the UN Special Rapporteurs and others with a clear warning as to what was on the horizon. At that time, everyone seemed to understand that the OIC was attempting to limit freedom of expression with allegations of blasphemy. We have come a long way since, but it seems our 1998 letter is relevant, which is why we are making it available to Jihad Watch readers.
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ASSOCIATION FOR WORLD EDUCATION
Case Postale 161 – 1211 Geneva 16
Mr. Paulo Pinheiro. Chairman
5th Meeting: Special Rapporteurs, Representatives, Experts & Chairpersons of Working Groups of the Commission on Human Rights and Advisory Services Programme (26-29 May 1998). Centre for Human Rights. Palais des Nations – GenÃ¨ve
19 May 1998
At last year’s meeting, members addressed the incident that took place on the last day of the 53rd session of the Commission on Human Rights, since called the “U.N. Blasphemy Affair.” The High Commissioner’s Note (E/CN.4/1998/45), under paragraphs 23, 71 (b), provides details and a unanimous decision that “special rapporteurs should not be requested to amend their reports merely because certain passages were deemed offensive by a particular member State or group of member States.”
As you are aware, the Special Rapporteur had no alternative but to follow the Decision 1997/125 of the Commission that: (3) “Requested the Chairman to ask the Special Rapporteur to take corrective action in response to the present decision.” This he did (E/CN.4/1997/71/Corr.1), but collective demands for further censure were made at the substantive session of ECOSOC on 22 July 1997, again at the Sub-Commission on 27 August 1997 and on other occasions, including the 54th session of the Commission on Human Rights under item 12.
Our association has stressed this matter because, as we wrote: “freedom of thought, opinion and expression should not be curtailed at the United Nations by auto-censorship, as a result of doctrinal accusations of ‘blasphemy’ whose demands are legion.”
In this spirit, we decided that all the facts and arguments should be brought to the attention of the widest possible audience. Therefore, we submitted a written Statement to the Sub-Commission (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/NGO/3); and sent a more detailed article to an international journal of jurists, Justice, September 1997), a shorter version to an academic journal (Middle East Quarterly, December 1997), and a updated piece to Midstream (New York, February-March 1998).
We also spoke on this issue at the Commission (54th) under item 12 and again under item 14 (24 March 1998), reading a Joint Statement – signed by 37 NGOs working within the framework of the Special Committee of International NGOs on Human Rights (Geneva) – that quoted in full the above-mentioned unanimous consensus decision.
Please find enclosed 35 copies of the above documents for distribution to all members,
in agreement with the secretary.
We trust that this documentation will be useful and, in view of the ongoing nature of
the UN Blasphemy Affair’, we call on your committee to reiterate and reinforce its 23
May 1997 decision.
David G. Littman RenÃ© Wadlow
NGO Representatives of the AWE to the United Nation Office in Geneva
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OUR LATER ORAL STATEMENT SUMMARIZES THE FACTS
To recapitulate: the Special Rapporteur on Racism (Maurice GlÃ©lÃ©-Ahanhanzo) had been criticised on 18 April 1997, the last day of the 53rd session, for quoting a factually accurate sentence in his annual Report [E/CN.4/1997/71], under the subheading: ‘Islamist and Arab anti-Semitism’ [E.3, Ch. II]. Faced with a diktat to resign or recant, he took the necessary ‘corrective action’ [E/CN.4/1997/71/Corr.1]. No State Member backed him. The Indonesian representative, chairman of the 56 OIC States, explained four months later to the Sub-Commission: this “excision of a blasphemous reference to the Holy Quran (…) was carried out in consultation with the parties concerned.” [Verbatim statement, Â§6; and E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/SR 35]
This ‘blasphemous reference’ was quoted from an annual report in, Dina Porat (ed.) Anti-Semitism Worldwide (Tel Aviv University, 1996).
The use of Christian and secular European anti-Semitism motifs in Muslim publications is
son the rise, yet at the same time Muslim extremists are turning increasingly to their own
religious sources, first and foremost the Qur’an, as a primary anti-Jewish source. (1)
In his subsequent Reports to UN bodies (1998-2002), all references to antisemitism in the Arab/Muslim world were omitted, although it is currently nourished – under the guise of anti-Zionism – by a crude and genocidal ‘Culture of Hate.’ Our warning – in UN oral and written statements, and in published articles – that the Special Rapporteur would succumb to auto-censorship has been proved correct.
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In a Jihad Watch article of September 4, 2008: “In the name of Islamophobia, will the OIC soon ‘Rule the Waves’ at the UN General Assembly“, we declared:
The OIC is attempting to limit both freedom of expression and freedom of religion, and to extend human rights to religion, per se, by its repeated promotion of the resolution “Combating Defamation of Religions” in the Commission on Human Rights [1999-2005], the Human Rights Council and in the General Assembly
This is quoted from a joint written statement A/HRC/7/NGO/96 (March 4, 2008) to the 7th HRC session by the Association for World Education, International Humanist and Ethical Union, and Association of World Citizens. For the full, documented text: ‘The Cairo Declaration and the Universality of Human Rights,’ see the IHEU site.
For an analysis of the principles at stake at the 12 session of the Human Rights Council, see the analysis by the IHEU Main Representative Roy Brown, “Freedom of Expression on trial again at the UN”. [HERE] http://www.iheu.org/freedom-expression-trial-again-un.
Over 2000 years ago, Archimedes explained that it was not only the width of the walls he had built in 212 BCE that would save the City of Syracuse from the Romans. It was necessary for the citizens to have the will and determination to protect their freedom and their rights. This wise saying applies to all democratic member States and members of Civil Society at the Human Rights Council, and free peoples worldwide.
(1) See articles mentioned above, in Justice, MEQ, and Midstream; republished in “Dangerous Censorship of a UN Special Rapporteur,” by RenÃ© Wadlow and David G. Littman, Part 5: Human Rights and Human Wrongs at the UN, ch. 29, p. 340, in Robert Spencer (ed.) The Myth of Islamic Tolerance: How Islamic Law Treats Non-Muslims, 2005.
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P.S. A subsequent article will follow with our oral statements delivered at the Council.