IHEU speaks out (cautiously) against OIC censorship at UN

  • Date / 23 September 2008

Following the successful attempts by the Islamic States at the 7th and 8th sessions of the Human Rights Council in March and June to silence any criticism of Sharia Law and the linking of certain abuses of human rights, such as the stoning of women, to Islam, IHEU main representative, Roy Brown, struck back at the 9th session on 19 September with a statement on the human rights of women. He argued that “No State should be permitted to hide behind tradition, culture or religion in order to justify any abuse of women’s human rights”, adding “It must be possible here to freely exercise the right to freedom of expression in order to defend the human rights of all, including women, and to expose abuse, whatever the attempted justification”.

The speech was widely welcomed by delegates, not only for having made an important point but for having avoided the use of any taboo words and being silenced by the opposition. Such is the climate here in the Human Rights Council that directly linking any violence or human rights abuse to Islam or to Sharia law would have been considered defiance of the President’s ruling and could have led to the loss of our UN accreditation. See this page for the full text of Roy Brown’s speech.

But maybe, just maybe, the tide is turning

In the strongest statement yet to the UN Human Rights Council on defamation of religion, on 19 September 2008, Ambassador Jean-Baptiste Mattei of France, speaking on behalf of the European Union, stated categorically that “The European Union will not accept that the notion of defamation of religion be integrated into the framework of human rights” and that the notion of defamation of religion “is incompatible with a discourse on Human Rights”. He went on to add, that “International law on human rights has for its primary purpose to protect people in the exercise of their freedom of religion or belief, not religions themselves”.
He asserted that “respect for pluralism must bring with it the right of everyone to criticize the values and convictions of others, to discuss them and contest them”.

IHEU has been beating on this door for the past five years but until now very few Western delegations had been prepared to speak out strongly against the OIC agenda. But we heard, just prior to our parallel conference on 17 September, attended by an EU representative, that the European Union felt that the push towards the protection of religion by the OIC had “gone too far”, and had to be resisted.

But one speech, however welcome, cannot turn the tide alone, so we were absolutely delighted when the EU statement was followed by equally strong rejections of the notion of defamation of religion by Belgium and Denmark. Perhaps even more importantly, the new Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of Racism, Githu Muigai himself highlighted the need to shift the discussion from the idea of defamation of religions “to the legal concept of incitement to national, racial and religious hatred, hostility or violence”.

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