Geneva, Feb. 20, 2006 – Three human rights groups today urged the President of the General Assembly and the United Nations to reject last-minute attempts to incorporate Islamic religious precepts into the charter of the world body’s new human rights council. The three non-governmental organizations — UN Watch in Switzerland, Freedom House in the U.S., and the Transnational Radical Party headquartered in Italy — called on Jan Eliasson to reject amendments submitted by the 56-nation Islamic bloc that would insert a special reference to “actions against religions, prophets and beliefs.”
Delegates have been meeting for months to negotiate an overhaul of the UN’s leading human rights body, with a final consensus document from Eliasson expected this week. Amid violent protests over the publication in Europe of newspaper cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, the latest demand by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has created a crisis in the talks.
“This is a giant monkey wrench in the process, and that’s what it was designed to be,” said Hillel C. Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, a watchdog group that has closely followed the talks. “To include this in the charter of the new human rights council would be appeasement to violence and taint the body at its birth,” he said. Neuer noted that countries such as Egypt and Pakistan have been among the leading opponents of the reforms proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. “This move smacks of bad faith, a last-minute attempt to derail the train of progress that seeks enhanced scrutiny of states that abuse human rights.”
A number of leading human rights organizations say the current U.N. human rights commission has become a refuge for the worst violators, who secure seats on the commission to block action against them and shield their records of abuse. Libya, Cuba, Zimbabwe and Sudan are regular members on the commission.
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Last week, during the negotiations to establish a new Human Rights Council to replace the UN Commission on Human Rights, the Organization of the Islamic Conference tabled an amendment that would extend to the global level the prohibition against blasphemy that already exists in certain countries.
The amendment calls on the new human rights body to “prevent instances of intolerance, discrimination, incitement of hatred and violence arising from any actions against religions, prophets and beliefs which threaten the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
This initiative, undertaken by the 56 countries of the Organization of the Islamic Conference at the UN, has grave consequences and should be firmly rejected by the European Union, the United States and all countries that cherish freedom of expression, liberty and democratic values. Defense of religion should not be used as a smokescreen behind which to introduce a false equation between matters of religious conviction and those of international human rights.
The amendment by the OIC should be completely rejected for the following reasons:
The mandate of the Human Rights Council, once established, will be to promote human rights, including vital ones of freedoms of expression, the press, religion and belief. By contrast, the principal effect of the OIC proposal would be an increase in censorship of those cartoons, books, articles, works of art, or other manifestations of thought that are considered offensive to any religion, and the erosion of the freedom to dissent from a religion.
One of the primary results of the OIC proposal would be to establish a justification for the violence and threats of violence that have occurred in recent days over the Danish cartoon depictions of Mohammed. In the past, artists, writers, editors and dissidents have also been threatened with death for depicting religions and religious figures in a light deemed unacceptable by certain groups. The OIC proposal seeks a UN and international imprimatur to whitewash this violence as merely acts of “excessive self-defense” against purportedly illegitimate provocations. The result of this proposal would be to increase threats and violence against all those who hold and express contrary religious views.
Next week, the President of the General Assembly, Jan Eliasson, will present a draft resolution on the establishment of the new Human Rights Council. We urge the European Union, the United States and all democratic countries strongly to oppose the inclusion of this proposal, which would taint the Council from birth. If the price to pay for the establishment of the new Human Rights Council is curtailing freedom of expression and religion, and appeasing violence and threats of violence, it is not worth paying.
Transnational Radical Party