During a recent meeting at the UN, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay seemed to downplay the responsibility of governments in instigating violent protests, while Pakistan tried to dilute the meaning of antisemitism.
On Thursday, February 21, 2013, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) organized a conference on the Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence. This is a series of seminars held around the world against the concept of “defamation of religion,” an Islamic-inspired notion that aims to limit free speech.
In her opening statement, the High Commissioner said that “In recent years, incidents involving hate speech, negative stereotyping in the media and even advocacy of religious or national hatred by public officials and political parties have resulted in killings of innocent people, attacks on places of worship and calls for reprisals.” We agree with her that racism, discrimination, hate speech and incitement to violence should be constantly and unequivocally condemned and combated. However, her statement failed to hold governments responsible for provoking social unrest. According to the New York Times, 19 people died and 160 were injured in Pakistan following “government-sanctioned protests” over an obscure YouTube video.
At the conference, however, Pakistan only spoke of the “important need to focus on the changing impact of modern information technology on Islamophobia and Antisemitism, the newest forms of racism.” By equating Islamophobia with Antisemitism, Islamic countries are trying to minimize the significance of the latter, which is widely practiced in their own school books and state media.
Sierra Leone underscored the limitations of the Rabat Plan of Action by questioning how a general framework could be used in countries where “specific situations of discrimination issues are already identified” but not addressed. In a similar vein, Austria complimented the Special Rapporteurs on their “comprehensive approach to a complex and global phenomenon” but concluded that the “Plan of Action is only as good as the action it generates.” We can only hope that tangible progress will be come out of this process, for those who fall victim to violent religious and racial discrimination while safeguarding free speech.