NSS raises alarm over new Islamist threat to free speech
The National Secular Society has warned government officials that a new resolution proposed by Pakistan at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will define any questioning of Islamic dogmas as a “human rights violation”. It will intimidate dissenting voices and encourage the enforced imposition of sharia law.
NSS Executive Director Keith Porteous Wood told top officials at the Foreign Office at a meeting yesterday that the new resolution would seriously undermine free speech, other human rights and, indeed, democracy around the world, and that its first victims would be the more moderate voices in the increasingly radicalised Islamic countries. Keith also drew attention to the intervention made at the UNHRC by Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (to which the NSS is affiliated) some of which was reported by Reuters.
The Human Rights organisation UN Watch had obtained a copy of the Pakistani-authored proposal after it was distributed this week among Geneva diplomats attending the current session of the UNHRC. The document, entitled “Combating defamation of religions,” mentions only Islam.
“While non-binding,” said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer, “the resolution constitutes a dangerous threat to free speech everywhere. It would ban any perceived offense to Islamic sensitivities as a 'serious affront to human dignity' and a violation of religious freedom, and would pressure U.N. member states — at the ‘local, national, regional and international levels’ — to erode the free speech guarantees in their ‘legal and constitutional systems.’”
“This is an Orwellian text that distorts the meaning of human rights, free speech, and religious freedom, and marks a giant step backwards for liberty and democracy worldwide,” said Neuer. “The first to suffer will be moderate Muslims in the countries that are behind this resolution, like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan, where state-sanctioned blasphemy laws stifle religious freedom and outlaw conversions from Islam to other faiths,” said Neuer.
“Next to suffer from this U.N.-sanctioned McCarthyism will be writers and journalists in the democratic West, with the resolution targeting the media for the ‘deliberate stereotyping of religions, their adherents and sacred persons.’”
“Ultimately, the very notion of individual human rights is at stake, because the sponsors of this resolution seek not to protect individuals from harm, but rather to shield a specific set of beliefs from any question, debate, or critical inquiry,” said Neuer.
Keith Porteous Wood said that the new resolution was dangerous and shocking. “We call on all liberal democracies to resist this new attempt to close down legitimate debate about the place of religion in a human rights context. The resolution is a corruption of the concept of universal human rights and would give a free hand to every Islamic despot and tyrant in the world.”
Read the full text of this shocking new proposal
13 March 2009