Discussion of religious questions now banned at UN Human Rights Council
International Humanist and Ethical Union June 30 2008
The UN Human Rights Council is not allowed to judge religions, according to president Doru Romulus Costea of Romania. Criticism of Sharia law or fatwas is now forbidden.
This ruling follows attempts by the Egyptian and Pakistani delegates at the Council to silence criticism of human rights abuse in the Islamic world.
The representative of the Association for World Education, in a joint statement with the International Humanist and Ethical Union, had denounced the stoning to death of women accused of adultery and of girls being married at the age of nine years old in countries where Sharia law applies.
The speaker, David Littman, was interrupted by no fewer than 16 points of order and the proceedings of the Council were suspended for forty minutes when the Egyptian delegate said that “Islam will not be crucified in this Council” and attempted to force a vote on whether the speaker should be allowed to continue.
On giving his ruling after the break Council President Costea said that the Council "is not prepared to discuss religious questions and we don’t have to do so". "Declarations must avoid judgments or evaluation about religion. … I promise that next time a speaker judges a religion or a religious law or document, I will interrupt him and pass on to the next speaker".
Litmann, who is also a representative for the World Union of Progressive Judaism, had been threatened before following a statement he made in January in which he had criticized the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel, a matter deemed irrelevant by the Council in the debate condemning Israeli incursions into Gaza. When stopped, Litmann had opined that “there is something rotten in the state of this Council”. For this, the WUPJ had been threatened with expulsion form the UN and its president summoned to appear before the NGO Committee in New York and forced to apologise.
In commenting on Monday’s events at a press conference on Wednesday 18 June, outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, said: "It is very concerning in a Council which should be... the guardian of freedom of expression, to see constraints or taboos,
or subjects that become taboo for discussion.” She did not refer specifically to the incident in the Council on Monday but she pointed to treatment of homosexuals in many countries -- prosecuted as criminals in a number of Islamic and some other states -- as "fundamental" to debate on sexual discrimination around the world. "It is difficult for me to accept that a Council that is the guardian of legality, prevents the presentation of serious analysis or discussion on questions of the evolution of the concept of non-discrimination,"
The affair has resulted in UN agency stories from AFP and ATS on 17 June, and again on 18 June from AFP, ATS, AP, Reuters, with quotes from President Costea, Louise Arbour. American Ambassador Warren Tichenor and Amnesty International.
The following comments on the events of June 16 at have been prepared by David G. Littman, NGO Representative of Association for World Education (AWE) and Roy W. Brown, Representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).
Shipwreck of the Human Rights Council
At 4:40 pm on June 16, David G. Littman was given the floor by the president of the UN Human Rights Council, to deliver a joint statement for the AWE and IHEU under agenda item 8: Integrating the Human Rights of Women throughout the United nations system.
Within 22 seconds, he was stopped – on a ‘point of order’ – by the delegate of Egypt. The verbatim transcript lasting has been left exactly as it was spoken (less the 40 minute break) and it can be seen and heard on the UN webcast archive at: pm by scrolling down to item 8 and the presentation by AWE..
At the Islamic summit in Mecca in December 2006, the OIC decided to adopt a policy of zero tolerance against any perceived insults to Islam as part of their overall strategy of advancing the cause of Islam worldwide. The measures agreed upon included creating an “Observatory” to monitor all reports of “Islamophobia”. Muslims throughout the world were to be encouraged to report any cases of perceived Islamophobia, however trivial. Cases submitted so far, for example, have included Muslims who have received “hostile glances”.
At that summit, two imams from Denmark presented the Danish cartoons (including some they had added themselves) and protests were then organised throughout the Middle East and elsewhere leading to a number of deaths and the burning of the Danish embassy in Beirut.
Plans were also put in place to seek changes in national and international law to provide additional “protection” for Islam. The battlegrounds were to include the European and national parliaments, and the UN, including the Human Rights Council. It was also proposed to move towards the creation of a new Charter of Human Rights in Islam, and the setting up of an Islamic Council of Human Rights to be based not on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but on Sharia law.
Fast forward 16 June 2008. The Egyptian delegate to the Human Rights Council, Amr Roshdy Hassan, saw an opportunity to wrong-foot the Council by attacking the statement by AWE/IHEU. Egypt had prepared their ground carefully, breaking protocol by arranging to receive advance copies of our statements, and finding in our statement on violence against women exactly what they were looking for. David Littman with whom they had quarrelled in the past was to be the speaker, the statement made explicit reference to Sharia law, whilst the Egyptian complaint was likely to be seen by Western delegates as a further attempt to silence a particularly vocal critic. The OIC however would present the statement as a clear attack on Islam, and by forcing a vote would, in the eyes of the Islamic world, have exposed those who voted in favour of the statement being allowed to continue, as being “anti-Islamic”. In the words of Amr Roshdy Hassan, they “will have to face the consequences”. In making his case however, Hassan stretched the truth almost beyond breaking point. He claimed that the first paragraph speaks about Egypt and Sharia law. In fact it makes no mention of the Sharia. He claimed that the second paragraph talks about Sudan, Pakistan and Sharia law. It too makes no mention of Sharia. Unfortunately, none of the other delegates had copies of the statement and were therefore unable to give the lie to these claims. The implication of the Egyptian complaint is that it is not necessary for Sharia law to be mentioned explicitly. It is enough that a speaker criticises amy human rights abuse sanctioned by the Sharia to be accused of insulting Islam and being forced to stop. The third and fourth paragraphs of the statement do however mention the Sharia specifically, in connection with the marriage of girls as young as nine years of age, and the stoning of women to death for adultery, in States that apply Sharia law. This was what clearly part of what Egypt had hoped to suppress.
The temperature was raised even further when the Pakistani delegate Imran Ahmed Siddiqui speaking for Pakistan said in another point of order that the statement “will amount to spreading hatred against certain members of the Council”.
When Hassan called for a vote, saying he would not see “Islam crucified in the Council”, the President wisely called for a five minute adjournment “in order to seek a better judgement”. But forty minutes later when proceedings resumed the President’s final ruling was seen to be a complete capitulation to the Egyptian demands. He said: “The Council is not prepared to discuss religious questions and we don’t have to do so. Declarations must avoid judgments or evaluation about religion”.
Egypt and the OIC had achieved a major objective. But their secondary objective - to be able to present Canada, the EU and other Western States as anti-Islamic – that will have to wait for another day.
Click to view image: '196934-silenced.jpg'
|Liveleak on Facebook|