Friday, April 04, 2008


Vote on freedom of expression marks the end of Universal Human Rights

For the past eleven years the organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), representing the 57 Islamic States, has been tightening its grip on the throat of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights. Yesterday, 28 March 2008, they finally killed it.

With the support of their allies including China, Russia and Cuba (none well-known for their defence of human rights) the Islamic States succeeded in forcing through an amendment to a resolution on Freedom of Expression that has turned the entire concept on its head. The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression will now be required to report on the “abuse” of this most cherished freedom by anyone who, for example, dares speak out against Sharia laws that require women to be stoned to death for adultery or young men to be hanged for being gay, or against the marriage of girls as young as nine, as in Iran.


There has been a seismic shift in the balance of power in the UN system. For over a decade the Islamic States have been flexing their muscles. Yesterday they struck. There can no longer be any pretence that the Human Rights Council can defend human rights. The moral leadership of the UN system has moved from the States who created the UN in the aftermath of the Second World War, committed to the concepts of equality, individual freedom and the rule of law, to the Islamic States, whose allegiance is to a narrow, medieval worldview defined exclusively in terms of man’s duties towards Allah, and to their fellow-travellers, the States who see their future economic and political interests as being best served by their alliances with the Islamic States.

Yesterday’s attack by the Islamists, led by Pakistan, had the subtlety of a thin-bladed knife slipped silently under the ribs of the Human Rights Council. At first reading the amendment to the resolution to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression might seem reasonable. It requires the Special Rapporteur:

“To report on instances in which the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination …”


“.. if we regulate certain things ‘minimally’ we may be able to prevent them from being enacted violently on the streets of our towns and cities.”

In other words: Don’t exercise your right to freedom of expression because your opponents may become violent. For the first time in the 60 year history of UN Human Rights bodies, a fundamental human right has been limited simply because of the possible violent reaction by the enemies of human rights.

The violence we have seen played out in reaction to the Danish cartoons is thus excused by the Council – it was the cartoonists whose freedom of expression needed to be regulated. And Theo van Gogh can be deemed responsible for his own death.

Freedom of expression is that right which – uniquely – enables us to expose, communicate and condemn abuse of all our other rights. Without freedom of expression and freedom of the press we give the green light to tyranny and make it impossible to expose corruption, incompetence, injustice and oppression.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights died yesterday. Who knows when, or if, it can ever be revived.

I used to wonder what States who felt it necessary to kill people because they change their religion thought they were doing in the Human Rights Council. Now I know.

The wafer-thin sham of an international consensus on the promotion and protection of human rights has finally been exposed for what it was – a sham. The fragmentation of human rights now appears inevitable. The proposed Islamic Charter on Human Rights (read “Duties towards Allah”) will certainly go ahead, as will the creation of a parallel Islamic Council on Human Rights. But the OIC will nevertheless continue to attend and dominate the UN Human Rights Council, thereby ensuring its continuing emasculation and descent into total irrelevance.

Just five months before he and more than 20 of his colleagues were killed by a terrorist bomb in Baghdad, the then High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, wrote:

“Membership of the Commission on Human Rights must carry responsibilities. I therefore wonder whether the time has not come for the Commission itself to develop a code of guidelines for access to membership of the Commission and a code of conduct for members while they serve on the Commission. After all the Commission on Human Rights has a duty to humanity and the members of the
Commission must themselves set the example of adherence to the international human rights norms – in practice as well as in law…”


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Vote on freedom of expression marks the end of Universal Human Rights

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