On July 22, 2013, a two-week session of the controversial Ad Hoc Committee on the Collaboration of Complementary Standards commenced. The Committee, set up in accordance with Paragraph 199 of the Durban Declaration, has as its goal to identify protection gaps in the fight against racism, especially within the International Covenant for the Elimination of Racial Descrimination (ICERD). From its first session in 2008, the Committee acquired notoriety as it became the forum through which the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) was seeking to draft an international protocol against defamation, thus limiting free speech and promoting blasphemy laws.
So far, this year’s session has been pretty uneventful. The committee meetings were extremely stilted, as many delegations had nothing to say, or felt no need to further elaborate. Many afternoon or morning sessions were postponed and adjourned, due to lack of content, or officially, to give countries time to familiarize themselves with material that was not distributed until last minute, such as biographical information on upcoming speakers.
The European Union and the United States continued to be vocal critics of the committee’s work, like in the past. They both complained against attempts to bring defamation back to the agenda. The EU noted with regret that the committee’s questionnaire was not carried out in a transparent manner, that important information was only provided at late stages, and that many countries did not respond, resulting in an underrepresentation of some regions. The United States said that they saw no need for additional substantive legal instruments, because the mandate of the committee is to promote a consensus of action plans and not create new confusing international law instruments. At times, the USA also had to ask a speaker how their topic had anything to do with the question of xenophobia.
Why not make this year’s session the Committee’s last one?