* On November 9-10 in Geneva, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), in consultation with the Organization of the Islamic Conference, will convene a conference entitled “Enriching the Universality of Human Rights: Islamic Perspectives on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Fifteen to twenty Islamic scholars, invited by the OHCHR, will present papers on Islamic Shari’ah and human rights.
Analysis: The High Commissioner deserves praise for this initiative. The unusual format of the conference, however, seems to put it at odds with the fundamental principle of free speech embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
Last week, at a briefing in Geneva to the Special Committee of NGOs on Human Rights, representatives of the OHCHR described the conference as an opportunity to explore the applicability of Shari’ah to the UDHR.
The voice of Islam should be heard within UN human rights fora along with those of the many other religions that represent the beliefs of the Member States of the UN. Unfortunately, only designated experts will be permitted to speak at the November conference.
NGOs, Member States and interested observers will not be permitted to question the experts, make oral statements, or submit written opinions. As a result, the points of view of non-expert participants will not be reflected in the documents published subsequent to the conference.
The concept of free speech is central to the UDHR, which is a crowning glory of the United Nations. The procedures established for the November conference do not honor free speech, as they should.
There should be more conferences on the topic of universality, more presentation of religious viewpoints, and a stronger commitment to free speech, open debate, and the primacy of the UDHR.
* On Friday, Secretary-General Kofi Annan called upon American conservatives to “exercise common sense” in their approach to UN-US relations during a speech to Empower America in which he addressed several myths popular in the United States regarding the UN.
Analysis: Kofi Annan’s frank remarks to a conservative audience are just the kind of direct dialogue needed to reenergize US-UN relations and refocus on issues of world governance. The Secretary-General must continue to confront American critics of the UN by showing how the world body can be an important instrument in American foreign policy. So long as the UN works to promote democracy and human rights worldwide, there is a common agenda between the UN and US policy.