Cuba rejects freedom of expression; Iran and Syria oppose Holocaust remembrance (again) in Durban II talks

The closing session of the working group on the draft Durban II declaration was held today at the U.N. Human Rights Council. The debate centered on Holocaust remembrance, freedom of expression, and general differences of opinion between Western and Islamic states.  

Holocaust Remembrance and Genocide

Iran asked that the paragraph on Holocaust remembrance be deleted, while Syria requested that it be minimized with the removal of a reference to the U.N. General Assembly resolution on the Holocaust and genocide. It also asked that victims of other atrocities be included in the paragraph (implicitly, the Palestinians for “Israeli atrocities”).

Australia responded that such demands were “offensive,” while the European Union (EU) said that it would have “extreme difficulty” in accepting such proposals. Switzerland and Argentina voiced their support for the paragraph as is.

On paragraph 63, which calls for combating impunity, especially related to genocide, and for cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC), Cuba proposed deleting the ICC part, citing legal inconsistencies i.e. that the implications of the paragraph would not “be applicable to all states.” Argentina strongly opposed Cuba’s suggestion.

Freedom of expression / “Defamation of religions”

The Czech Republic for the EU requested an amendment to the controversial paragraph 30, which “Takes note with appreciation that the Ad hoc Committee on the Elaboration of International Complementary Standards convened its first session,” proposing to delete, “with appreciation.” The ad hoc committee is primarily responsible for promoting the campaign to criminalize the “defamation of religions” within U.N. human rights law. Nigeria lashed back at the EU, proposing to keep “appreciation,” while adding, “and commends” the committee. The paragraph was then tabled and skipped.

Pakistan, speaking for the group of Islamic states (OIC), made a general comment on the issue of “defamation of religions,” stating that there had been considerable progress in informal negotiations and a consensus may be reached soon. At the same time, the delegation asserted that the OIC would hold firm to “certain minimalistic positions.”

Cuba proposed the deletion of paragraphs 55 and 56, which emphasize the importance of freedom of expression, saying, “There is no reason why we should single out one right, which is not even associated with the fight against racism.”

Iran proposed a new paragraph 56 that calls for “permissible restrictions to freedom of expression.” It also suggested integration of the “defamation of religions” concept into article 66, which deals with incitement to hatred.

Anti-West bias

On paragraph 65, dealing with human rights while fighting terrorism, Iran proposed an amendment condemning profiling on the grounds of religion or belief. The Czech Republic, speaking for the EU, voiced its reservations on this amendment, saying that there is agreed language on the issue of profiling, which Iran was not using. Iran later withdrew the proposal after Pakistan suggested inclusion of a call on “all UN member states to respect the resolutions 60/288 and 62/272” of the General Assembly third committee, which deal with “protecting human rights while countering terrorism.”

The representative of the Association for World Education created some turmoil after accidentally tripping next to the seats of the Syrian and Iranian delegations. He was not injured. Later on, he delivered a strong speech, calling for the addition of “anti-Westernism” where “anti-Arabism” is mentioned.

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