Dom Post on free speech

A great editorial from the Dom Post:

Despots and dictators are expected to come up with reasons to limit . The United Nations isn’t.

That is why it is abhorrent that the ’s top human rights body has approved a proposal urging countries to pass laws to protect religion from criticism. Its voted to accept a resolution proposed by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference calling for a global fight against “defamation of religions”. It singles out Islam as a victim. “Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism”, the resolution states.

The problem is the despots and dictators are all on the Human Rights Council. They see its job as to protect their rights to be despots and dictators.

It will have little practical impact in the West, because it will not be put into practice. However, it should not be ignored. Its critics which include a coalition of 186 secular, Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups rightly see it as an attempt to give legitimacy to the anti-blasphemy laws that theocratic Muslim regimes use to stifle dissent and persecute non-Muslims. It is born of the same philosophy that regarded it as appropriate to issue a fatwa in effect, a death sentence against author Salman Rushdie for his book The Satanic Verses, which was ruled to be blasphemy against Islam.

It is terrible that any country has a law that makes it a criminal offence to change your religion, let alone one carrying the death penalty.

It also, as the coalition has pointed out, alters the very notion of human rights. Those rights are meant to protect individuals from harm. They are not meant to protect beliefs from critical inquiry. The resolution, if taken seriously, would damage freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion in any country that adopted it, and that is why protests against it should be loud and long. Too often the West has mumbled, shuffled and looked the other way when its core values are attacked. It needs to take the same pride in the principles that underpin its culture as the Organisation of the Islamic Conference does in its, and push them with the same vigour. Freedom of speech is worth fighting for, rather than surrendering to those more determined in their world view.

I could not agree more. This is why every newspaper in the world should have published the Danish cartoons, rather than cower behind threats of violence and trade sanctions.

Back home in New Zealand, I would love to see the Government appoint a “Free Speech Commissioner” to the Human Rights Commission. Their job would be to fight against censorship, support a free media etc etc.

Against that background, Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully has made the right call in withdrawing New Zealand’s bid for a place on the Human Rights Council, freeing up a spot for the US. As Mr McCully observed when he announced the decision, “by any objective measure, membership of the council by the US is more likely to create positive changes more quickly than we could have hoped to achieve them”.

Even for a country with the diplomatic heft of the US, that is a big task. The council’s predecessor, the Human Rights Commission, dissolved because it had lost all credibility. The council is showing all the signs of going down the same shameful road.

Yes it was a good call, and yes Obama will probably fail also – but good on him for trying to save the Human Rights Council from indeed going down the same shameful path as its predecessor.

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