International Humanist Group Denounces Blasphemy Laws to UN’s Human Rights Council

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:

Madam President

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.

Thank you

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.

You can read more about atheist groups speaking out against the blasphemy laws here and here.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Blacksheep

    Josephine Macintosh is right!I wish that our leaders would stop commenting on the quality and tastefullness of the video clip, as if somehow that has any bearing on the issue: you can’t flip out, riot in the streets, and kill people because you don’t like what thay say. Hillary Clinton does not need to say, “The video is disgusting, but…” She can simply say, “This behavior is disgusting.” Anything short of that clouds the issue.

    • Ibis3

       I think the reason that they say that is code for “I’m not arguing from this position because I think the video is laudable”–i.e. that the real agenda is the same as that of the video maker’s and the free speech argument is just an expedient cover. It also serves to make the rioters look even more extreme and ridiculous (i.e. “See, I can agree that the video is a piece of crap, but I don’t have to set fire to a building to prove it.). And, of course, it’s a defence (i.e. “Don’t hurt me; I’m on your side.).

      • Brian Macker

        They are communicating that they disagree with the video, that the guys behavior is wrong, that he was abusing free speech, and then lock up the video producer.    Not exactly siding with free speech.

    • Brian Macker

      I’m getting sick of atheists doing the same thing. 

  • icecreamassassin

    Atheist groups speaking out against blasphemy laws are all good and well I suppose, but frankly the only thing that’ll make me feel better about this is hearing a bunch of religious groups speaking out against blasphemy laws.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X