Islam gains ground at Council

HRT
Illustration from www.sajidine.com
30 March 08 - The countries that hold a majority in the Human Rights Council succeeded, during the month-long 7th session, to get their concerns about the rising tide of ‘Islamophobia’ introduced into several major resolutions, including one considered critical by Western nations on freedom of expression

Pamela Taylor, Juan Gasparini/Human Rights Tribune - The Human Rights Council will hold a final half-day meeting on Monday (March 31) to deal with resolutions that were postponed due to a lengthy and acrimonious debate Friday evening on a controversial amendment modifying the mandate for the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression.

The group of African, Arab and Muslim countries succeeded in modifying the mandate for the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to include a requirement to inform about cases where individuals have ‘abused’ the right of free speech. The vote came on the same day that a controversial film criticizing Islam by a right-wing Dutch parliamentarian was circulated on the Internet.

The resolution finally passed, said that the UN expert must report incidents where an individual may have abused of the right of freedom of expression, resulting in racial or religious discrimination. Critics point out that there are already several international and national laws in existence for dealing with all types of discrimination and defamation.

Rather than being approved by consensus as the Council prefers, the resolution was forced to a vote after several Western nations withdrew their support as co-sponsors. It was approved by 32 of the Council’s 47 members with 15 abstentions, including the EU nations, Canada, Guatemala and Switzerland. There were no votes against as that would have been tantamount to ending the mandate altogether.

The assembly hall was noisy and tense as President Doru Costea tried to maintain order, several times reminding delegates that he could not keep the interpreters late. Costea has run a tight ship during his tenure, usually managing to end each day’s session promptly at 6pm but it was one hour later when he finally banged the gavel down and announced there would be an extra half-day on Tuesday to deal with remaining issues.

Canada, which has championed the Freedom of Expression resolution from the beginning, opposed the resolution on the grounds the amendment by the majority members had ’turned the mandate upside down" by requiring the UN expert to be a policemen.

George Gordon-Lennox of Reporters Without Borders, the leading NGO defending press freedom, deplored the result, saying it would turn the UN experts into "prosecutors by going after those who may abuse freedom of expression."

Other NGOs said that Islamic interests ’absolutely got there way on this’ and pointed out that racial and religious discrimination are already in the mandates of two other Rapporteurs.

The Council also approved two other resolutions, one on the follow-up world conference on racism, knows as Durban II and another on continuing the mandate for the UN expert on religious discrimination that include references to defamation of religion, specifically Islam.

Andrei Logar, of Slovenia, Speaking for the European Union, which abstained on both resolutions, warned that the focus on “defamation could be used by Governments to deny other peoples freedoms. “

Munu Mahawar of India which also abstained on both items voiced a concern expressed by many NGOs that the resolutions “excessively focused on only one religion,” adding that “stereotyping is not linked to only one religion.”

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Amendment on Freedom of expression
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