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US hypocrisy on free speech at United Nations

By Index on Censorship / 8 October 2009


un_human_rights_councilThe UN Human Rights Council has passed a resolution condemning “stereotyping of religion”. It’s a move that flouts freedom of expression – and it was sponsored by the United States. Roy W Brown reports

The United States has backed a new UN resolution on free expression which would be considered unconstitutional under its First Amendment — which protects freedom of expression and bans sanctioning of religions.

The UN Human Rights Council on 2 October adopted the resolution, which the US had co-sponsored with Egypt. The US had finally joined the Human Rights Council in June, and its support for the measure reflected the Obama administration’s stated aim to “re-engage” with the UN.

While the new resolution focuses on freedom of expression, it also condemns “negative stereotyping of religion”. Billed as a historic compromise between Western and Muslim nations, in the wake of controversies such the Danish Muhammed cartoons, the resolution caused concern among European members.

“The language of stereotyping only applies to stereotyping of individuals, I stress individuals, and must not protect ideologies, religions or abstract values,” said France’s representative, Jean-Baptiste Mattéi, speaking for the EU. “The EU rejects the concept of defamation of religion.”

France emphasised that international human rights law protects individual believers, not systems of belief. But European members, eager not be seen as compromise wreckers, reluctantly supported the measure.

On the other side of the fault line stood the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which lobbied for a measure against “religious defamation”.

“We firmly believe that the exercise of freedom of expression carries with it special responsibilities,” said Pakistan’s delegate, speaking for the OIC. The “defamation” of religion, he said, “results in negative stereotyping of the followers of this religion and belief and leads to incitement, discrimination, hatred and violence against them, therefore directly affecting their human rights.”

Following the OIC’s logic, one could equally apply the language of the resolution to Islamism, a political form which is arguably a “contemporary manifestation of religious hatred, discrimination and xenophobia. It results in negative stereotyping of the followers of other religions and beliefs and leads to incitement, discrimination, hatred and violence against them, therefore directly affecting their human rights.”

The EU also had other worries. European members felt that the provision in the resolution on “the moral and social responsibility of the press” was objectionable in that it went beyond the limited restrictions set out in article 19, the provision on free expression in the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.

Finally, the EU encouraged the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank LaRue, to continue his work. This was an indirect reference to the attacks made against LaRue by several OIC members at the June session of the Human Rights Council. (Read more here)

The Council stopped short of repeating the OIC’s criticisms of the Special Rapporteur but encouraged him to stick to his mandate. That indicates that he should continue to focus on violations of free expression, rather than purported “abuses” of that right.

While this new resolution reflects new efforts by the US to broker compromises between Western and Muslim nations, it also represents an ominous crack in the defences of free expression.

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21 Responses to US hypocrisy on free speech at United Nations

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  2. Pingback: Blasphemy or the Truth | Radical Atheist

  3. Pingback: Blasphemy-Dangerous or Necessary? » FreThink - You can afford to think. It’s free.

  4. bulldog

    24 October at 05:45

    Theism will be the death of us all.

    Christians believe in revelation, they want the end of the world to come so they can be “rescued”.
    Islam believes in expansionism and martyrdom for rewards in the afterlife.

    Does anyone else see a problem with this picture?

  5. Steve

    13 October at 21:02

    I’m glad that you think that I’m technically correct barriejohn. Unfortunately, there are many who think that defamation is a perfectly acceptable form of free expression.

    I’m not saying that I support this particular resolution. However, I do support moves to overcome the tide of religious defamation that masquerades as intelligence in our society.

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  7. Benjamine

    13 October at 09:23

    The main deliberative organ is the General Assembly which usually meets annually in September with representation by all member states. The General Assembly votes on the annual budget of the United Nations, elects members to other UN organs and committees, and makes non-binding recommendations to member states through resolutions.

    Modern Man

  8. Benjamine

    13 October at 09:22

    The main deliberative organ is the General Assembly which usually meets annually in September with representation by all member states. The General Assembly votes on the annual budget of the United Nations, elects members to other UN organs and committees, and makes non-binding recommendations to member states through resolutions.

  9. barriejohn

    12 October at 18:35

  10. barriejohn

    12 October at 18:22

    You may be technically correct, Steve, but I’m pretty sure that the O.I.C. don’t see it that way! According to Human Rights Watch: the Human Rights Council “is foundering for two reasons: first, the role played by the O.I.C. which has fought doggedly within the council to shield states (other than Israel) from criticism…” That is the nature of the beast!!

  11. Steve

    12 October at 14:55

    The author of this article and some of those making comments need to gain an understanding of what defamation means. It’s simply to make false accusations. If we are going to complain that we can’t go around making false accusations about religions, we have a serious bigotry problem.

    For Doug and shatterface: you can defame something that’s false by saying that it’s something that it’s not. And the resolution isn’t about blasphemy, it’s about defamation. Whether it’s false or whether people disagree doesn’t come into it. Disagree if you wish but don’t go “stereotyping” for the benefit of misinforming people. In fact, I’d suggest that it’s of benefit to be accurate in explaining something if it’s false.

    For barriejohn: Those Islamists who pour out bile against the Jews would be subject to this resolution since that would be considered as defamation.

  12. barriejohn

    12 October at 10:30

    Well said Doug and Shatterface! The Islamists will continue to pour out their bile and invective against the Jews, but woe betide anyone who dares to criticise THEM!!

  13. Doug

    12 October at 04:56

    How can you defame something that is false?

  14. Jack L.

    10 October at 13:01

    Excactly Ophelia, that was the issue I was talking about: for the full text: http://www.flameout.org/flameout/vangogh/freespeech.html

  15. Shatterface

    10 October at 00:40

    Every religion is a blasphemy towards other religions: each believes the others are at best deluded, at worst hellbound.

    They should sort their own mutual hatreds first.

  16. Russell Blackford

    9 October at 23:03

    It would be nice to see a link to the actual text of this resolution. I’m worried about it, but I need to work out exactly how worried I should be. Also, I need to know whether the OIC will continue to pursue its “defamation of religions” resolutions or whether there’s a deal whereby this supersedes them. If there’s no such deal, what has been gained?

    In short, I appreciate the article, but a much deeper analysis of the factual situation is required before we can really draw conclusions about the significance of this development.

  17. Ophelia Benson

    9 October at 18:19

    David MWW

    I think Jack L was referring to the November 2004 article by IoC’s Associate Editor Rohan Jayasekera. It was rather shocking; I remember criticizing it myself at the time on Butterflies and Wheels.

    More here –


  18. Keith

    9 October at 16:50

    It does now seem that organised religion itself has become a creeping form of universal terror.There seems to be a fallacy that religions and being religious imbues people with standards that are superior to those who are not attached. There are many, maybe a majority, that believe in a Supreme Being but do not accept the doctrines of any of the organised religions. Surely what benefits mankind is for people to be moral,ethical and in support of goodness and kindness and the law of the land but it seems to me, from daily observation that the organised religions do not have those qualities.What they do seem to have is an arrogant holier than thou attitude,full of self aggrandisement and a love of money and above all getting high if they can exercise power over the minds of others. Doctrine is not morality.

  19. Tim

    9 October at 15:14

    The most important thing to remember is that we can only lead by example. Making sure that the West is secular and rational is the only necessity. The culture war will be won or lost in our schools and universities. Here we must not compromise. All the rest is foreign aid and accommodation while the rest of the world catches up socially.

  20. DavidMWW

    9 October at 10:14

    Do you have a reference for that Jack L?

  21. Jack L.

    9 October at 08:21

    Oh, now you guys are whining that you may not criticizing religion?

    Almost five years ago you guys claimed that Van Gogh’s anti-Islam-film was “furiously provocative” and an “abuse of his right to free speech.”

    And now the UN rules against this “abuse”, the Index is COMPLAINING?!?!

    My, what a bunch of hypocrites you are!

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