Yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal Asia (page 18) published the following two letters to the editor, by U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley and by UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer. Both were in response to a Nov. 5th editorial entitled “Hillary vs. State,” which critiqued the U.S. co-sponsorship with Egypt of a UN resolution concerning freedom of speech. For an excellent in-depth summary of the issue, see The Dangerous Idea of Protecting Religions from “Defamation” by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. ***
U.S. Defends Freedom of Expression
November 18, 2009
Hillary Clinton’s defense of free speech is indeed good news. The bad news is that danger still lurks here in Geneva.
Last month’s session of the U.N.’s “Committee on Complementary Standards” became only the latest salvo in the pan-U.N. Islamic campaign to alter international human-rights law by criminalizing “defamation of religion” as a form of racism.
Heading the committee is Algeria’s Idriss Jazairy. At an April 22, 2008 U.N. meeting on racism, he declared that “Antisemitism targets Arabs, who are also Semites, and by extension, the whole Muslim community.” Mr. Jazairy’s committee brings its battle to the Human Rights Council in March 2010. His draft protocol, circulated unofficially, would conflate existing post-war prohibitions on racism with the Islamist agenda of silencing religious dissent.
A full measure of the perils must account not only for intimidation of Western writers and cartoonists, but the growing international legitimization of medieval antiblasphemy laws-in countries like Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia-that stand to crush any hopes of religious tolerance and liberalization.
Hillel C. Neuer
Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. But as with all rights, it comes with responsibilities. The Obama administration seeks broader international acceptance of both rights and responsibilities.
Your editorial “Hillary Versus State on Free Speech” (Nov. 5) misses this point. Promoting responsible speech is not the same as banning free speech.
In recent years, we have seen numerous attempts to encroach on free speech around the world in the name of protecting religions from disparagement-including at the U.N. The U.S. opposes measures to place legal limits on free speech.
Our resolution on freedom of expression that was passed in September at the United Nations Human Rights Council was a breakthrough precisely because it offers a vehicle for promoting responsibility without implementing legal limits on free speech. The resolution recognizes freedom of expression as one of the “essential foundations of democracy” and urges all nations to respect that right. It also calls for effective remedies for people, including journalists, who are persecuted for exercising free speech.
The resolution stresses the importance of discouraging racial and religious intolerance through means consistent with international human rights obligations and not through laws infringing on free speech. The resolution avoids problematic yet prevalent formulations including “defamation of religions” and “blasphemy.” It was adopted by consensus, and attracted 48 co-sponsors from every region of the world.
We are proud of our work to defend freedom of expression and proud of this resolution.
(US State Dept. Spokesman)
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