Archive for the 'Freedom of Expression' Category

UN free speech expert concerned with Israel, Palestinians

During a debate at the Human Rights Council on Tuesday, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression expressed concern with recent attempts to limit criticism of Israel’s occupation. He also referred to his apprehension over the prosecution of Uri Blau and the adoption of laws criminalizing the commemoration of Israeli independence day as a day of mourning, questioning of Israel as a Jewish state and prohibition of boycotts of Israeli products and those produced in the settlements in the West Bank. He said that the ability of individuals in the West Bank to express themselves is limited by the IDF who use excessive force to disperse protesters.

In Gaza, the Rapporteur was concerned by the use of force of Gaza security forces against those expressing opinions deemed unacceptable to the de facto authority. Egypt agreed with his report on Palestine and Israel.

Palestine called for an end to the occupation and for the establishment of the Palestinian state. They referred to the Israeli occupation as “the most flagrant violation of human rights.” They call on Israel to comply with international law and put an end to occupation of Palestine.

The president gave the floor to the other concerned country, Israel, but noted that, “unfortunately, Israel is not present in the room and therefore cannot speak.” (Israel told the UNHRC recently that they will not be participating at its sessions.)

AP quoted Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor saying “We remain totally committed to freedom of speech for all, and we will examine very closely the recommendations with the aim of making whatever improvements may be necessary.” At the same time, Hamas called the report “slander.”

Iran Censorship Extends to Golden Globes Stage

The contrast couldn’t have been any clearer at the Golden Globe Awards ceremony Sunday when it came to presenting the prize for Best Foreign Language Film.

Host Ricky Gervais’s irreverence for authority, and Madonna’s unrestrained immodesty were – for better or for worse – testaments to the universal right to express oneself freely.

Then came the solemnity of Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s acceptance speech after Madonna announced that his film “A Separation,” which he made in Iran and is still showing there, had won the category. Continue reading ‘Iran Censorship Extends to Golden Globes Stage’

Google: “Internet censorship getting worse, more sophisticated”

Last month, during the main annual session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN Watch worked with a global coalition of 25 human rights groups to organize a conference focused on the countries that rank as the world’s worst violators. Our Geneva Summit for Human Rights featured leading dissidents, attracted hundreds of activists, and was covered in the Wall Street Journal, Le Monde and La Stampa. Internet freedom for human rights defenders was a key theme. Below is an edited transcript of the most news-making speech. The full conference can be viewed on video here.

Continue reading ‘Google: “Internet censorship getting worse, more sophisticated”’

GA approves resolution aimed at combating ‘defamation of religions’

On November 12, the representative of Malaysia, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Belarus, and Venezeula, introduced in the General Assembly’s Third Committee a resolution on combating the “defamation of religions.”  The text was approved by a vote of 81 in favor to 55 against, with 43 abstentions.

The draft introduced by the OIC noted with deep concern “the serious instances of intolerance, discrimination, acts of violence based on religion or belief… particularly [against] Muslim minorities… that threaten to impede their full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”  In that respect, it expressed concern that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations.

Among the 55 countries voting against the resolution were the United States, Canada, Australia, Israel, all the EU states, and other democracies.  Sweden, on behalf of the EU, said they shared the OIC’s concern that people were “routinely victimized on the grounds of religion or belief,” but they could not agree with the concept of “defamation of religion” as a response to such discrimination, because it would “limit freedom of expression and might endanger the atmosphere of tolerance that would enable people of different religions or beliefs to coexist without fear.” 

The United States representative lamented that the “increasingly splintered view on this text” did not adequately reflect the views of every state.  He went on to say that “freedom of religion was enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights… [F]reedom could not be universally achieved by imposing governmental laws regarding who could say what, when.  The United Nations must remain faithful to the central tenet of human rights law, which said that human rights were held by individuals not nations or religions.”  The representative finished his statement saying that the U.S. opposed the resolution because it would not agree that prohibiting speech was the way to promote tolerance.

Amongst the 43 countries who abstained, the representatives of Brazil and Jamaica spoke in explanation of their votes.  The representative of Brazil stated that his delegation could not support the text as tabled because it believed the concept of the “defamation of religion” needed to be addressed in such a way that was “not detrimental to other rights.”  Jamaica’s representative said the draft “should have been more balanced and not confined itself to the concerns of one religion.  It had failed to account for the violations of rights of persons of other faiths or religions.”

A coaltion of 100 human rights groups from 20 countries warned that the move would “punish the peaceful expression of disfavored political or religious beliefs and ideas.”

Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 8 Afternoon

The Durban Ad Hoc Committee wrapped up this afternoon after adopting its final report by consensus. The report reproduces the proposals made by the regional groups over the previous two weeks and will be submitted for review at the Human Rights Council in March 2010. Continue reading ‘Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 8 Afternoon’

Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 8 Morning

Lichtenstein and Nigeria went head to head at this morning’s Durban Ad Hoc Committee meeting. Redrawing sharp lines between Western and African countries, the two delegates debated the implications of new provisions to the current convenant on racial discrimination. The central point of disagreement remains “whether demonstrating there were insufficient instances in the field or that there were no insufficiencies and therefore the present status quo should be maintained,” therefore casting in great doubt the purpose of the committee itself. Countries have yet to reach consensus, and several, hugely divergent proposals still remain on the table. Continue reading ‘Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 8 Morning’

Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 7 Afternoon

Pakistan chastised the United States for racial profiling practices at this afternoon’s Durban Ad Hoc Committee meeting. The committee debated several issues, including the rights of people under foreign occupation, protection of migrants, refugees and IDP’s (internally displaced persons). Zimbabwe also expressed mild disgust at Western states, saying, “the denial or resistance of the Western groups in the area of gaps is not surprising.  They see them as adequate only when it comes to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. […] Racial and religious profiling is evident.” Continue reading ‘Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 7 Afternoon’

Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 5 and 6

After several rounds of closed regional meetings, the Durban follow-up committee resumed work on Tuesday morning only to adjourn for another five minute recess when a new program of work was circulated. Upon reconvening, the committee did not formally adopt the program, but decided to move on to the more substantive issues of national mechanisms and genocide. Western states argued that countries need to focus on better implementing international laws in their own national mechanisms, while Arab and African countries pressed for new laws to cover gaps in international standards. Continue reading ‘Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 5 and 6’

Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 4 Afternoon

The controversial issue of defamation of religion took centerstage at this afternoon’s Durban Ad Hoc Committee meeting. Still unable to adopt its program of work, the committee has decided to discuss agenda items unofficially, with hopes that it will have more luck in reaching consensus on a per item basis. However, Islamic countries quickly moved the discussion away from discrimination on the basis of religion, to defamation of religion, an item that had been removed from the official program of work. This elicited strong resistance from Western countries, which argued that protection from religious discrimination should not create restrictions on freedom of expression. Continue reading ‘Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 4 Afternoon’

Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 4 Morning

The protection of states’ rights became the central issue of this morning’s Durban follow-up meeting. Arab and African states are pushing to restrict freedom of expression by criminalizing “Islamophobia,” and “defamation of religion” (which has now been stricken from the program of work). Nigeria submitted a proposal to create international laws that make criticism of Islam a punishable offense. As Western and Islamic countries continue to lock horns on this issue, the commitee has been unable to adopt its program of work. Continue reading ‘Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 4 Morning’

Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 3 Afternoon

Western and Islamic countries are at loggerheads over new international laws that criminalize Islamophobia. Today’s afternoon session of the Durban follow-up ended in disagreement, with several states urging the committee to consider the findings of independent experts to break the impasse. Continue reading ‘Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 3 Afternoon’

Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 3 Morning

Heated debate continued at the Durban follow-up meeting on racism and discrimination when Nigeria and Pakistan sought to limit dicussions on homophobia and other forms of racial discrimination. At issue was the request made by Germany yesterday to clarify that opinions raised by certain countries do not reflect the view of the entire committee. This point was raised out of concern that changes in procedure could be used to force out consideration of certain rights, such as freedom of expression and protection against homophobia. Continue reading ‘Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 3 Morning’

Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 2

Islamophobia and homosexuality were among the controversial topics that arose today at the Durban Ad Hoc Committee, which reconvened after a one-day postponement for regional group consultations. The committee adopted the draft agenda and resumed discussions on the program of work. Continue reading ‘Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 2’

Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 1

Islamic states at the UN are once again attempting to change international law by defining criticism of Islam as a form of racism. As part of a broader Islamic campaign throughout the UN, which includes an annual “Defamation of Religion” resolution that is now making its way through the GA in New York, the so-called “Ad Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of Complementary Standards“, part of the UN Human Rights Council’s follow-up to the 2001 Durban conference on racism, opened today in Geneva for a 2-week session. The group was created in December 2006 and held its first session last year.

The premise of the Islamic-initiated group is that international law has a gap in allowing criticism (“defamation”) of Islam, and that new “complementary standards” must be enacted, to prohibit newspaper articles, cartoons or other statements deemed offensive to Muslims. The committee today discussed the relevance of reaching consensus on the program of work. Continue reading ‘Durban Ad Hoc Committee: Day 1’

U.N. Free Speech Expert Resists Islamic States’ Call for Censorship

The debate on free speech from yesterday continued today at the U.N. Human Rights Council. The controversy stems from the report by U.N. expert on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Mr. Franck La Rue Lewy, which emphasizes the importance of free speech while advocating minimal restrictions on incitement to hatred, which he said does not include “defamation of religions.” Continue reading ‘U.N. Free Speech Expert Resists Islamic States’ Call for Censorship’

African, Islamic groups complain about U.N. free speech report

Today at the U.N. Human Rights Council, Pakistan speaking for the Islamic Group and Egypt speaking for the African Group voiced their concerns that the U.N. expert on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Mr. Franck La Rue Lewy, stepped outside of the bounds of his mandate by issuing a report that stresses the importance of free speech. The Islamic and African groups had also been active last year in the successful drive in the Council to change the expert’s mandate. Continue reading ‘African, Islamic groups complain about U.N. free speech report’

Freedom of expression, Middle East core of Durban II negotiations

This morning’s debate at the U.N. Human Rights Council, in the Intercessional Working Group for the Durban Review Conference (“Durban II”), centered on a few topics in which state opinions widely diverged. One such bone of contention was the issue of freedom of expression vs. speech limitations to prevent criticism of religions (“defamation of religions”). Another involved controversial “past injustices,” including the “plight of Palestinians”/condemnation of Israel, as well as the demand that Western countries pay reparations for the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Continue reading ‘Freedom of expression, Middle East core of Durban II negotiations’

U.N.’s Durban II committee censors filming in bid to enact censorship

The Russian-chaired U.N. committee in Geneva that is drafting the Durban II declaration today barred noted French author Caroline Fourest and her Arte news crew from filming a debate where Pakistan, Iran, and other countries urged the enactment of international curbs on free speech in the name of Islamic sensitivities. Germany protested and the matter will be further considered.

UN Watch Director Heads Expert Panel at Paris Conference Marking 60th Anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Paris, Oct. 2, 2008 — As vice-president of the Geneva NGO Special Committee on Human Rights, UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer headed an expert panel at the UN’s annual conference of non-governmental organizations, which convened in Paris to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing there of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The conference gathered 1,700 NGOs associated with the United Nations for three days of debate.

Neuer chaired the panel discussion on the UN Human Rights Council, cosponsored by the Conference of NGOs (CONGO) and Pax Romana, featuring Willy Fautre of Human Rights Frontiers International, Peter Prove of the Lutheran World Federation, Paula Schriefer of Freedom House, and Lukas Machon of the International Commission of Jurists.

The presenters debated issues concerning the new Universal Periodic Review procedure; the interaction of the 47-nation council with other UN human rights bodies; the council’s composition and voting record; and the vital role of independent experts and NGOs.

In response to a question posed by Neuer, the panel also addressed the council’s censorship of NGO speeches—an issue raised by French human rights minister Rama Yade at the conference opening—and the council’s newly installed  regime to police “abuses” of free speech around the world.

U.N. Ruling: Islamic Sharia Taboo in Human Rights Council Debates

In its recently concluded June session, the UN Human Rights Council ruled that any references to Islamic Shar’ia law are prohibited in the council chamber. Even outgoing UN rights chief Louise Arbour, who more than once sought to appease the UN’s anti-blasphemy squads, expressed her concern.

It all started when the heroic David Littman, undaunted by malicious attempts to expel him from the UN, tried to deliver a speech on violence against women and what Islamic scholars can do to prevent it. The Egyptian representative interrupted repeatedly and challenged the council president. “Regardless of the result of the vote — I couldn’t care less if I will win or lose this vote — my point is that Islam will not be crucified in this council!”

The president gave in: “Statements should refrain from making judgments or evaluations of a particular religion. . . I can promise that at the next evaluation of a religious creed, law, or document, I will interrupt the speaker and we’ll go on to the next one.”


Following is a transcript from June 16, 2008 debate at 8th Session of the UN Human Rights Council. General debate on Agenda Item 8, “Follow up and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.” The video archive can be seen here under “Points of Order” (requires RealPlayer).


In the context of integrating the human rights of women throughout the United Nations system we wish to draw attention to four examples of widespread violence against women that we believe merits far greater attention from the council. One, regarding FGM [female genital mutilation], we are making available our detailed written statement…


[Bangs gavel.]  A point of order raised by the delegation of Egypt. You have the floor, sir.


Thank you Mr. President. Mr. President, I have a copy of this statement. Continue reading ‘U.N. Ruling: Islamic Sharia Taboo in Human Rights Council Debates’

Free speech resolution watered down to please Islamic states

This UN Human Rights Council will today adopt a resolution on freedom of expression, renewing the mandate of the expert charged with investigating violations. The resolution was initiated by Canada, with the co-sponsorship of Uganda. Another 50 countries joined as co-sponsors, including the US, France, Israel, Germany, Slovenia, UK, Japan, Mexico, and Australia. Several countries sought to water down the text, including China, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Belarus and South Africa. After weeks of debate, including five informal consultations, the West finally conceded what it called a major compromise. The text raises several concerns.

The Resolution weakens freedom of expression. Pakistan for the Islamic group, Egypt, Algeria, Belarus and China demanded restrictions on freedom of expression. In what they described as a major concession, Western states agreed to add a preambular paragraph:

Mindful also that article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that exercize of the right to freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities and may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but that these shall be only such as are provided by law and are necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others, or for the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or public health and morals, and that article 20 provides that any propaganda for war or advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.


By expressly stating these restrictions, the mandate is now weakened.



“Defamation of Islam”


The above concession is only a small part in the massive campaign by Islamic states at the UN to make “defamation of religion” — with Islam being the only religion specified — the primary concern of international human rights law. During the debates, supporters of this line — including Pakistan for the Islamic group, Singapore, Russia, Bangladesh, South Africa, Algeria and China — argued that freedom of expression is not absolute. National security, counter-terrorism and protection of religion were cited as grounds for restrictions.


Indeed, in this session as before, the council adopted a resolution condemning “defamation of religion,” where freedom of the press was specifically targeted, an apparent reference to the Danish cartoons controversy.


Endless compromise?


During the informal meeting of March 19, 2008, Pakistan, China and others demanded even further concessions. Russia asked for the following amendment:


Recognizing that exercising the right to freedom of opinion and expression may not justify incitement to terrorism, violence, racial or religious hatred, and has to be conducted responsibly and with respect to cultural, civilizational and religious diversity and values.


The US and the Czech Republic responded that the text had already made an enormous compromise, and that they were unwilling to make any further concessions.

Islamic Protesters “Pleased” With Louise Arbour’s Response

When the alliance of fifty-six Islamic states complained to Ms. Arbour in 2005 about the cartoons in a Danish newspaper that they deemed blasphemous—and which eventually served as grounds for bloody riots—she reportedly instructed the UN experts on racism and religion to follow up on their complaint.

“I would like to emphasize that I deplore any statement or act showing a lack of respect towards other people’s religion,” Arbour wrote to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, according to Denmark’s Berlingske Tidende. In her letter, Arbour reportedly directed the UN experts on religious freedom and racism to investigate the matter, saying, “I’m confident that they will take action in an adequate manner.” A diplomat from one of the Islamic countries told the newspaper that the governments were pleased with Ms. Arbour’s answer.

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