IHEU’s president Roy Brown spoke at the UN Commission on Human Rights on 18 April 2005. He called on the Commission, “the conscience of the world”, to expose and condemn the abuse of human rights even when it is sanctified by religious belief or custom. He said that undue concern for religious or cultural differences, or fear of being labelled Islamophobic, must not be permitted to stand in the way of the universal application of Human Rights.
INTERNATIONAL HUMANIST AND ETHICAL UNION
UNION INTERNATIONALE HUMANISTE ET LAIQUE
Statement by Main Representative Roy Brown, Monday 18 April 2005
A joint statement with the Association for World Education and Association of World Citizens
Commission on Human Rights: 61st Session. (14 March – 22 April 2005)
Status of International Covenants on Human Rights (item 17a)
[Only the words in bold were actually spoken, the words in square brackets  were not]
Thank you Mr Chairman.
Resolution 2004/69 on the Status of the International Covenants adopted without a vote by the Commission last year,
Emphasizes the importance of the strictest compliance by States parties with their
obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [and, where applicable, the Optional Protocols to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.]
However, we wish to bring to the attention of the Commission the existence of two major obstacles to the full implementation of these rights that exists even in many western democracies. The first is an undue concern for multiculturalism amounting to moral relativism.
Western society tends to turn a blind eye to the plight of European Muslim women and girls because “Muslim culture is different”. Yet in Europe many women find themselves subject to domestic violence, undergo forced marriages or are even killed by family members because of some belief that they have tarnished the family honour.
Throughout the Muslim world, and it is equally true in many Muslim communities in the West, few women are able to participate fully in society without the permission of their menfolk, permission that is frequently denied.
The second obstacle is exemplified by Resolution 2005/L.12 “Combating Defamation of religion” accepted by the Commission by 31 votes to 16 on 12th April. We note with extreme disquiet paragraph 8, which:
“Stresses the need to effectively combat defamation of all religions, Islam and Muslims in particular especially in human rights forums”. [my emphasis].
Mr Chairman, it is no defamation of religion, it is rather the duty of this Commission, “the conscience of the world”, to expose and condemn the abuse of human rights even when it is sanctified by religious belief or custom.
Many states in the West are currently considering permitting Muslim communities to settle family disputes by means of arbitration based on Sharia law. Many Muslim women will thereby be condemned through social pressure – in nominally egalitarian western society – to accept unequal treatment before the law. The idea of one law for them, another for us, is anathema and precisely the kind of moral relativism that will deny these people the full enjoyment of their human rights, and will inhibit their full integration into western society.
Would this Commission, we wonder, have remained silent when millions of European Jews were being shipped off to the gas chambers because this was “part of German culture”?
Mr Chairman, undue concern for religious or cultural differences, or fear of being labelled Islamophobic, must not be permitted to stand in the way of the universal application of Human Rights.
If I may add a footnote: The Somali-born, Dutch Member of Parliament, Ayaan Hirsi Ali will be addressing this very subject at our parallel conference in Room XXI at 6:00pm this evening following the close of the session. We cordially invite all delegates and NGO representatives to come to room XXI at 6:00 pm to hear her speak.