Friday, 2 October 2009

Godbotherers 1, Decency 1 at the UN

ARTICLE 19, the international free speech body, gives a cautious welcome to the Resolution on the Right to Freedom of Expression adopted by consensus today at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). But they also warn that: “Unfortunately, the resolution does contain two viruses. It will be incumbent upon member states of the HRC and civil society to ensure that these viruses are not allowed to flourish, multiply and gangrene the text and commitments. Instead, they shall be contained, by and through international human rights standards and principles, so that the resolution can best function and offer the maximum protection to freedom of expression.”
So, you ask, what’s the problem.
Well, the final draft version proposed by Egypt & the USA had a few, actually.
For a start, it entirely deleted a paragraph which stated that the Human Rights Council: “Encourages consultations among media professionals .... with the assistance of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, with a view to exchanging views on this subject and sharing best practices, taking into account the independence of the media and international human rights law”.
But in particular, Article 19 was particularly concerned about a passage which stated that the Human Rights Council: “expresses its concern that ... negative racial and religious stereotyping continue to rise around the world”.
The previous resolution referred to “negative stereotyping of religions and racial groups around the world”, so while the word “religions” was omitted the phrase “negative racial and religious stereotyping” was no better.
As Article 19 said yesterday, “stereotyping” was too ambiguous and is easily interpreted to encompass religions, religious ideas and religious symbols, none of which are not protected by international law. Their view was that the words “negative racial and religious stereotyping” should be replaced with “negative stereotyping of individuals and groups on the basis of their religion or race”, which at least conforms with international human rights law. They also regretted that their recommendation to strengthen the protection of freedom of expression were not incorporated in the final text.
As it happened, the final agreed text still referred to “religious stereotyping”, which Article 19 today deemed: “a vague and difficult concept which suggests that religions, religious ideas and religious symbols (rather than believers) may be protected by international human rights law.”
The new Resolution also still makes specific reference to another resolution against which human rights advocates around the world have advocated.
HRC Resolution 7/36, said Article 19: “unnecessarily diluted the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression.”
Secularists might remember that the UN Special Raporteur has been the last line of defence a few times before when the uglier, more powerful theocracies have tried to sway the UN.
Nevertheless, Dr Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director, concluded that: “The adoption of the Resolution by consensus is a breakthrough. Especially so given the tensions and conflicts that have accompanied recent discussions on freedom of expression within the Human Rights Council and its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights.”
So, swings and roundabouts, but if the theofascists had got things all their own way it could have been much worse.

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