The protection of states’ rights became the central issue of this morning’s Durban follow-up meeting. Arab and African states are pushing to restrict freedom of expression by criminalizing “Islamophobia,” and “defamation of religion” (which has now been stricken from the program of work). Nigeria submitted a proposal to create international laws that make criticism of Islam a punishable offense. As Western and Islamic countries continue to lock horns on this issue, the commitee has been unable to adopt its program of work.

  • The United States attempted to level the discussion with a proposal that countries review their current anti-discrimination laws before determining the need for further legislation. The United States also supported the United Kingdom’s suggestion to invite independent experts to offer their opinions on the need for new international laws.
  • South Africa offered its own proposal to change state legislation based on the assumption that gaps do exist in international law. Therefore, “state parties shall review and, as and where required, modify their laws, policies, and practices relating to migration, asylum, and citizenship, on the basis of relevant international human rights instruments, and not solely on the basis of security considerations.” Denmark protested, and asked South Africa to provide empirical evidence indicating the need for new laws. With empiricial evidence, they argued, the proposals “are merely views.”
  • Ecuador supported the South African proposal, adding that they were necessary for national security reasons. It accused the security policies of “certain countries” as “neo-fascis[t].”
  • Nigeria flatly rejected the call for independent experts.  The delegation argued that relevant data can be found online, “More than 200 million people are on the internet everyday exchanging xenophobic and racist expressions. In each of our countries, we have available data, so go onto the internet if you want data.” Syria claimed that the UK proposal was a diversionary tactic meant to stall negotiations and substantive debate, and therefore also opposed inviting independent experts.

Reporting by Cindy Tan and Bethany Singer-Baefsky

UN Watch