Insults hurled on Day 1 of Human Rights Council

The UN Human Rights Council opened today in Geneva for its month-long regular session, with speeches by high-ranking government officials from Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and the United States. In a vicious attack against the West, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, lambasted other nations for terrorism and lewdness.

Below is a summary of today’s debates.

  • The Vice President of Spain urged the Council to “overcome the sterile debate on defamation of religions.”
  • Saudi Arabia decried the “tragic circumstances” and “gross violations” of the Palestinians. Attacking Israel, the delegation called upon the international community to endorse the Goldstone report (whose name was spelled Goldstein in the written statement) “to end the injustice, persecution and sufferings that the Israeli occupation has imposed on the Palestinian people.”
  • The Foreign Minister of Iran asserted that “the Islamic Republic of Iran is a democratic system rooted in Islamic values and ideology,” and that “votes cast during the [June 12th] election turned it into an exemplary instance of democracy.” He also accused Western states of committing crimes with impunity, citing the use of French and British passports in the Dubai attack. Departing from his prepared text, the Foreign Minister also claimed that the U.S. was aiding an Iranian terrorist. He added, “Muslims throughout the world in general and the Muslim communities in Western countries in particular, have been the target not only of massive propaganda campaigns but outright social castigation and open violence, all under the pretext of freedom of expression.” After the Iranian intervention, the Chair reminded all delegations to use respectful language and to avoid referring to the governments of UN Member States as “regimes.”
  • The United States was “seriously concerned about inflammatory speech and language that reinforces negative stereotypes of individuals based on their religion.” It also rejected the defamation of religion initiative that “calls to criminalize and ban speech that is offensive to members of religious traditions.”  The delegation also committed to combating Agenda Item 7 and the “disproportionate attention the Council pays to Israel.”
  • South Africa “applauded” the Goldstone report and “the convening of the 9th Special Session following the incursion of the Israeli Defense Forces into the Gaza Strip.”
  • Claiming to be “leaving aside political considerations,” Palestine “wonders how long this occupying power can continue to occupy and violate the human rights of the Palestinian people with impunity.”  The delegation accused Israel of “changing the Islamic and Christian character” of Jerusalem, obstructing movement and using the “separation wall” as a means to separate families.
  • The Organization of the Islamic Conference noted “the Council’s attention to the continuing suffering of the Palestinian people.” The delegation called for “a meeting of the high-contracting parties on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” It also reiterated its support of a “multilateral approach” to issues like “defamation of religions.”

A panel was convened in the afternoon to discuss the impact of the global economic and financial crises on the universal realization and effective enjoyment of human rights. High Commissioner Navi Pillay explained that tackling the global economic and financial crises requires a global effort rooted in human rights.  She expressed concern that the unemployment situation in both developed and developing nations is not on the mend. The representative of the ILO advocated using the same innovation that rescued the banks to increase employment. He argued that “the fiscal situation for the developing world is better than in the developed world.”

  • Nigeria maintained that it was not the economic crisis itself, but the response of governments to the crisis that threatened human rights.
  • Martin Khor (Executive Director of the South Center) argued that because developed countries are the ones responsible for the crises, when they are issuing bailouts they should focus not only on “internal needs” but also at “external financing;” that they should not reduce their aid budgets, but expand them.
  • Egypt asked the panelists to explain how the “recovery packages of developed countries” have become protectionist, and how they have adversely affected developing countries.
  • Spain for the EU reminded all delegations of their obligation to protect free expression and explained that “combating fraud and corruption is not possible without good governance.”  The delegation reminded the Council to remain focused on its mandate.

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