Betrayal At The U.N.

How Freedom Of Expression Is Undermined By Islam [1]
by Ibn Warraq (April 2008)

 What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

            The barbarians are due here today.     

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

            Because the barbarians are coming today.
            What laws can the senators make now?
            Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating

                        Waiting for The Barbarians. Constantine Cavafy [1864-1933].


The central issue, of which we should not lose sight, of the Fitna Affair is not whether the film by Wilders is good, bad, blasphemous, or offensive to Muslims, but rather freedom of expression. Human Rights begin with freedom of thought, and expression; democracy depends on it. Sixty years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, a noble document whose articles 18 and 19 guarantee freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and freedom of opinion and expression, Islamic countries on 28 March, 2008 managed to kill it.

The 57 Islamic States with support from China, Russia and Cuba succeeded in forcing through an amendment to a resolution on Freedom of Expression. The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression will now be required to report on the “abuse” of this freedom. Theo van Gogh, the Danish cartoonists and Geert Wilders, and anyone criticising Islam, or the Sharia will now be deemed to have “abused” the freedom of expression. In other words, instead of protecting freedom of expression, the amendment will now be limiting freedom of expression.

The nations that created the United Nations, and promulgated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 were committed to the concepts of equality, individual freedom and the rule of law. In the last fifteen years, the UN has been taken over by the Islamic States, whose record on human rights is abysmal, and who have a very shaky notion of what constitutes democracy, and whose allegiance is to a seventh-century worldview defined exclusively in terms of man’s duties towards Allah. The Islamic States have been supported by those nations with a hatred of the United States of America, and those countries who see their future economic and political interests as being best served by their alliances with the Islamic States.

The Human Rights Council [HRC] replaced the old Commission on Human Rights in June 2006 following criticism that the latter was too selective and too politicised. However, the HRC is equally selective and politicised as it has failed to condemn human rights abuse in the Sudan, Byelorussia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China, for example, while constantly reprimanding Israel and Israel alone. The HRC is now dominated by countries that think that you should be killed for changing your religion, a clear violation of article 18 of the 1948 Declaration; quite clearly it is incapable of fulfilling its central role, that of promoting and protecting human rights. And yet, the western delegates instead of voting againt the amendment abstained. The West blithely, complicitly, slides to its self-immolation.

The one redeeming feature of the entire grim farce was the passionate plea from 21 courageous NGOs from the Islamic States, along with nineteen other organisations such as the Cartoonists Rights Network of USA, to delegations to oppose the amendment. They wrote,

We, the Undersigned, are deeply concerned that the proposed amendment undermines the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, at a time when it most needs protection and strengthening.

The proposed amendment is particularly problematic for the following reasons:

1. It goes against the spirit of the mandate: The role of the Special Rapporteur is not to look at abusive expression, but to consider and monitor abusive limits on expression. There are several other United Nations bodies which have a specific role in relation to incitement to racial hatred, such as Committee on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which has devoted a lot of attention to it.

2. It lacks balance: The amendment only focuses on restrictions to freedom of expression, rather than on the idea of an appropriate balance between the positive protection for the right to freedom of expression and the need to limit incitement to racial and religious hatred. This lack of balance is reflected, for example, in the opening language, as well as in the reference only to Article 19(3), which is about restrictions on freedom of expression, rather than to Article 19 as a whole.

3. It is unnecessary: It is inherent to the mandate that the Special Rapporteur should consider and comment on appropriate limitations to the right to freedom of expression, as the current post-holder Ambeyi Limbago has done many times before (as well as his predecessor). Furthermore, by focusing specifically on one type of restriction, the proposed amendment puts undue emphasis on it.

4. It can be misinterpreted: The convoluted wording of the amendment may leave international human rights law generally and the special mandate specifically open to various misleading interpretations.”[2]

These NGOs from Islamic States are perfectly aware of the implications of living under Islamic Law, and were clearly frustrated that they were not heeded by those delegates who take the freedoms they enjoy for granted.

The great danger is that the Sharia, and its Islamic definition of blasphemy, will now become part of “customary international law,” which would have the effect of imposing the blasphemy proscription upon all national jurisdictions, and implicitly requiring jurisdictions to enact and enforce legislation compatible with this ban. One hopes that the Liberal Democratic Nations of the West will not accept such principles of International Law that go against their own fundamental principles; we know, for example, that the blasphemy law was recently abolished in Great Britain. Could this be the start of a breaking up of transnational legal institutions?

Finally, can the Western, and other truly democratic nations, continue to squander money with their participation in that most corrupt, and Islamic of institutions, the United Nations?

[1] I was greatly influenced by a report on the whole fiasco by Roy Brown, who represented the International Humanist and Ethical Union [IHEU] at the HRC in Geneva.

[2] Signatories:


Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Egypt

Adaleh Center for Human Rights Studies, Jordan

Al-Haq, Palestine

Andalus Institute for Tolerance_and Anti-Violence Studies, Egypt

Amman Centre for Human Rights, Jordan

Azerbaijan Journalists’ Trade Union, Azerbaijan

Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Bahrain

Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC), Bangladesh

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, Canada

Cartoonists Rights Network, USA

Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies, Syria

Darfur Bar Association, Sudan

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Egypt

Freedom House, USA

Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka.

Greek Helsinki Monitor, Greece

Independent Journalism Center, Moldova

Index on Censorship, U.K

International Pen, U.K

International Publishers Association, Geneva

Iraqi Centre for Transparency and Anti-Corruption, Iraq

La Ligue Tunisienne pour la défense des Droits de l’Homme, Tunisia

Maharat Foundation, Lebanon

Massline Media Centre (MMC), Bangladesh

Media Institute of Southern Africa, Namibia

Media Rights Agenda, Nigeria

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), Palestine

Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), Pakistan

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), France

Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF), Yemen

Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Thailand

The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), Indonesia

The Arabic Network for Human Rights (Egyptian)

The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), Pakistan

The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement (EACPE), Egypt

The Egyptian Association for the Support of Democratic Development (EASD), Egypt

The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, Azerbaijan

The Network of African Academics for Media Policy and Regulation

The World Association of Newspapers, France

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