A representative from the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), which has delegations at the United Nations in New York and in Geneva as an accredited NGO, spoke on Tuesday at a meeting of the UN’s Human Rights Council.
IHEU rep Josephine Macintosh issued this statement — and “received a very warm reception” — denouncing the violence and overreactions to the “Innocence of Muslims” video and supporting the right to free speech everywhere:
We appeal to the member states of this Council and the wider international community to recognise that the limits to freedom of expression are already well-drawn in international law. Articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR, drafted while the memory of the Holocaust was still fresh in our minds, set out very clear limits to what can be permitted if incitement to hatred and violence are to be effectively combated.
The poorly-made video clip insulting Islam gained virtually no attention when it first appeared on the Internet in July and only became an international issue when publicised by the rabble-rousing Sheikh Khalad Abdalla, a host on the Islamist satellite-TV station al-Nas. The protests we are now hearing from many leaders in the Islamic world should therefore be seen for what they are — political expediency by states who wish to limit freedom of expression as a way of limiting opposition to their undemocratic and repressive regimes.
This Council should on no account bow down to these demands.
Madam President, there is no human right not to be offended. As the High Commissioner has reminded us the correct answer to provocation is often to ignore it. [And may we respectfully remind this Council that everyone has the right to protest against tyranny, repression, corruption and abuse of human rights — even when they are carried out in the name or religion.]
The video clip was an ignorant, tasteless, amateur production that should have been left to perish in the waste bin of ignorance. To treat such garbage as a major attack on millions of individuals is quite simply nonsense. Those who have used this incident to whip up the violence any mayhem that has led to the deaths of almost 100 people must be held to account for their crimes.
Madam President, we must not allow this incident to be used as a weapon to further limit our cherished and hard-won freedom of expression.
Last week, IHEU Vice President Andrew Copson also spoke out against the blasphemy laws:
These demands for an international prohibition of ‘blasphemy’ are not merely reactionary, they are opportunistic. Turkey currently holds the post of secretary-general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Representing 56 member states, mainly Muslim-majority countries, the OIC has spent the last several years pushing for an international ‘defamation of religion’ law at the United Nations. In its earliest attempts it was quite clear that protecting Islam alone from criticism or “insult” was the goal, but when this didn’t fly with other UN Member States, the OIC turned broadened the concept of “defamation of religion” to other religions.
Anyone who believes in freedom must contest all attempts to resurrect ‘defamation of religion’ or to institute any international law against ‘blasphemy’.
It’s great to have a voice of reason at these meetings; now we have to find out how much sway they have.