Individuals have rights, not religions

March 26, 2009 at 10:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

If the framers of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were still alive to today, would they be happy with what the U.N. has become? Whilst we can’t ignore or dismiss its enormous humanitarian work and the countless lives saved as a result, what would they have made of UN’s record of defending the very principles which made these good works possible, and which remains the organisation’s one flawless foundation?

After reading the latest news, I suspect their judgement would not be kind. The U.N.’s Human Rights Council has finally approved a long-threatened motion calling on member states to outlaw the ‘defamation’ of religion. The proposal, which only mentions Islam and was backed by some of the planet’s most belligerent human rights abusers, has been widely-scorned as a quite naked attempt to protect religious belief & practices from the scrutiny and criticism which is our right under the Declaration of Human Rights. As Johann Hari wrote a few months ago:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated sixty years ago that “a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief is the highest aspiration of the common people.” It was a Magna Carta for mankind — and loathed by every human rights abuser on earth. Today, the Chinese dictatorship calls it “Western”, Robert Mugabe calls it “colonialist”, and Dick Cheney calls it “outdated.” The countries of the world have chronically failed to meet it — but the document has been held up by the United Nations as the ultimate standard against which to check ourselves. Until now.

The most offensive parts of the resolution can be found in paragraphs 9 and 12, which claim that whilst free speech is universal, the question of ‘how free?’ should be determined by governments:

9. Emphasizes that, as stipulated in international human rights law including articles 19 and 29 of UDHR and 19 and 20 of ICCPR, everyone has the right to hold opinions without interference, and has the right to freedom of expression, the exercise of which carries with it special duties and responsibilities and may therefore be subject to limitations as are provided for by law and are necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others, protection of national security or of public order, public health or morals, and general welfare. [Emphasis mine]

Next, having demanded that free speech be limited by states, it goes on to identify exactly where those limitations should be:

12. Urges all States to provide, within their respective legal and constitutional systems, adequate protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions, and incitement to religious hatred in general, and to take all possible measures to promote tolerance and respect for all religions and beliefs;

At this point, I’ll hand back to Johann:

All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. I don’t respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water, and rose from the dead. I don’t respect the idea that we should follow a ‘Prophet’ who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn’t follow him. I don’t respect the idea that the West Bank was handed to Jews by God and the Palestinians should be bombed or bullied into surrendering it. I don’t respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice. This is not because of “prejudice” or “ignorance”, but because there is no evidence for these claims. They belong to the childhood of our species, and will in time look as preposterous as believing in Zeus or Thor or Baal.

Now, before we all start getting riled up about our surrender to Jihadism, it’s worth remembering that this resolution is non-binding and certainly doesn’t spell the end for our right to watch Monty Python films. But it is still a dangerous precedent, and one which demonstrates how increasingly difficult it’s become for the U.N. to satisfy its highest human rights ideals when it’s populated by states intent on practicing the opposite.

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