Islamic representatives threaten freedom of speech expert at UN

Islamic states launched an extraordinary attack on a United Nations-appointed special expert on freedom of expression, who had said that speech should not be restricted in order to protect religion. “Restrictions should never be used to protect particular institutions or abstract notions, concepts or beliefs, including religious ones,” wrote Frank La Rue, special rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression in his report presented to the Human Rights Council this week.

La Rue, a Guatemalan human rights jurist, said restrictions to prevent intolerance should only be applied to “advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.” He also called on the council, and the UN General Assembly in New York, not to adopt resolutions that support the idea of defamation of religion.

But representatives of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Conference said that the content of the report deviates from the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and violates the Code of Conduct for special procedure mandate-holders. In particular, these states opposed Mr La Rue’s conclusion that the concept of “defamation of religions does not accord with international standards on freedom of expression,” and said if he continued to contradict their interpretation of what “free speech” meant, they would seek to have him stripped of his position.

Roy Brown, reporting on the incident for the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) said: “Mr LaRue’s report was strongly supported in the Council by the United States, the United Kingdom and several NGOs who pointed out that under the terms of his mandate he was fully entitled to make recommendations to the Council and the UN without pressure or outside interference. It is becoming intolerable that some states, unable to win arguments on their merits are now stooping to such blatant bully-boy tactics.”

Human Rights organisation Article 19, reacted angrily to this blatant threat from the OIC, saying that the Special Rapporteur should be independent and allowed a free hand to carry out their enquiries. “Such independence must include the freedom to comment upon the subject of resolutions previously adopted by UN human rights bodies which, in their view, are contrary to established principles of international human rights law.”

Article 19 said: “We strongly urge Human Rights Council member states to support the work of the Special Rapporteur, Frank La Rue.”