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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Durban II: More U.N. Efforts to Squelch Free Speech?

by Barbara Sowell

On Dec. 18, 2008 the U.N General Assembly passed a non binding resolution that condemned "defamation of religion." Western critics have said that this resolution will be used to limit freedom of speech.

Last month the Obama administration said that the United States will boycott Durban II, the upcoming U.N. conference of racism, “unless its final document is changed to drop all references to Israel and the defamation of religion.”

A growing number of nations fear that Durban II may be the launch pad for an all out final assault on freedom of speech. A binding anti-blasphemy resolution on member UN nations would make it a crime to criticize Islam.

Canada, United States, Italy, other European states, and Israel are now boycotting the United Nations racism summit, the Durban Review Conference, or what is dubbed “Durban II,” which is due to take place in Geneva from April 20-24.

In Nov 2008, Islamic countries won United Nations backing for an anti-blasphemy measure. According to a Nov 2008 CanWest article, this resolution, and similar resolutions, are being accumulated for a more sinister goal – to provide international cover for domestic anti-blasphemy laws. The goal of the Organization of Islamic Conference is to create a binding resolution on member nations to severely limit free speech. This goal might be accomplished at the Durbin II conference.

Passage of the resolution is part of a 10-year action plan the 57-state Organization of Islamic Conference launched in 2005 to ensure “renaissance” of the “Muslim Ummah” or community.

While the current resolution is non-binding, Pakistan’s Ambassador Masood Khan reminded the UN’s Human Rights Council this year that the OIC ultimately seeks a “new instrument or convention” on the issue. Such a measure would impose its terms on signatory states.

The resolution passed in Nov 2008 links religious defamation to incitement to violence, which would severely limit a broad range of peaceful speech and expression.
The CanWest article continues:

But Western democracies argue that a religion can’t enjoy protection from criticism because that would require a judicial ruling that its teachings are the “truth.”

“Defamation carries a particular legal meaning and application in domestic systems that makes the term wholly unsuitable in the context of religions,” says the U.S. government in a response on the issue to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“A defamatory statement . . . is more than just an offensive one. It is also a statement that is false.”

The article goes on to explain the legal difficulty of even defining the term “defamation,” and that belief cannot be equated with a legal definition of truth. Additionally, most Western countries do not grant rights to ideas. There is a distinction between “granting an “idea” rights - and defending the right of people not to be discriminated against.”

Canada says governments have abused laws against defamation or contempt of religions to “prosecute and imprison journalists, bloggers, academics students and peaceful political dissidents.”

There’s also consensus among opponents of the UN measure that people most likely to be targeted by anti-blasphemy laws are Muslims in Muslim countries.

According to Nat Hentoff's op-ed column in Feb 2, 2009 in the Washington Times only Islam and Muslims are covered by the current anti-defamation resolution.

Only Islam and Muslims are specifically named in this resolution against religious defamation, sponsored by Uganda on behalf of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, and cosponsored by Belarus and Venezuela. Opponents included the United States, a majority of European countries, Japan and India. . .

The article quotes Floyd Abrams, “the nation's leading protector of the First Amendment,” as stating "that laws based on the concept of 'defamation of religion' actually help to create a climate of violence."

"Violators of these laws, as applied in most Muslim countries, are subject to the death penalty," Abrams continued. He cited from the study a 22-year-old Hindu in Pakistan who "was beaten to death by co-workers at a factory for allegedly committing the crime of blasphemy, which is a crime punishable by death in the country." The three workers were "charged not with murder but with 'failure to inform the police that blasphemy was under way.' " . . .

Another of America's leading First Amendment lawyers, Marc Stern, co-executive director of the American Jewish Congress, makes a crucial point: If this approach to "defamation of religion" were to become a crime under international law (under the impetus of the U.N. resolution), "nations would be able to seek extradition and trial abroad of persons who make statements critical or offensive to one or all faiths anywhere in the world."

According to the Jewish Tribune, the International March of the Living praised the United States for announcing that it would not attend the conference. The organization is urging a boycott of the Durbin II conference in Geneva.

“This is a compelling moral position by the US leadership, displaying that hatred and intolerance have no place in international discourse,” said Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, chairman of the International March of the Living. . .”

As reported by (AFP) yesterday, Australia is threatening to boycott Durban II, because it threatens to turn into an anti-Jewish anti-Semitic rant. According to Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, Australia is leery of joining Durban II for fear it will be a repeat of the inaugural UN racism summit, held in the South African city of Durban in September 2001.

People should please understand this: if we come to the conclusion that the text being prepared for the Durban review number two conference sets us up for a re-run of an anti-Jewish anti-Semitic harangue, as the first conference was, then Australia will not take part," Smith told reporters. reports that Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel says that the upcoming Durban II conference on racism will hurt the United Nations.

Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel on Thursday said the passing of resolutions attacking Israel at the upcoming "Durban II" conference on racism would only harm the summit's host, the United Nations.

"The anti-Israeli resolutions to be expected at Durban II will harm the UN, not Israel," Weisel told Haaretz. He was referring to reports that draft resolutions for the summit brand Israel as an occupying state that carries out racist policies.

According to Eye on The UN, this is what the Durbin II platform represents:

• Undermining the West and democracy
• Promoting anti-semitism
• Demonizing Israel as racist
• Foiling efforts to combat radical Islamic terrorism
• Manufacturing Islamophobia everywhere
• Fomenting religious extremism
• Curbing free expression

Durban II documents and articles can be found at Eye on the UN

A Lou Dobbs interview with Christopher Hitchens discusses the U.N. anti-blasphemy resolution. If it were binding on member UN nations, it would call on governments to pass their own laws to make it a crime to criticize Islam.

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Originally Published at Digital Journal