The US and the UN Human Rights Council


in Law, Politics, Rants

America’s decision to join the new United Nations Human Rights Council (up to now, largely populated with extremely repressive regimes), hopefully signals a willingness on the part of the new administration to try to steer that body off its present course, which seems largely focused on silencing the critics of Islam:

[T]he Cairo document carries the huge rider that the application of all human rights should be subordinated to sharia law. It also affirms the illegitimacy of “exercising any form of pressure” on Muslims to quit their faith “for another religion or for atheism”—in terms that seem to deny the individual’s freedom to change religion, and to justify the penalties for “apostasy” and blasphemy that many Muslim states impose.

It seems pretty critical for the international community to continue to recognize that human rights are vested in individuals, and that decrees that empower the suppression of individuals by organizations run fundamentally counter to them. A world in which people are not free to criticize the religions of one another – including by encouraging them to abandon all faiths – is not one in which the critical rights of individuals are being upheld.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

. April 20, 2009 at 10:10 pm

“There is nothing particularly novel about the relation between atrocious human rights violations and US aid. On the contrary, it is a rather consistent correlation. The leading US academic specialist on human rights in Latin America, Lars Schoultz, found in a 1981 study that US aid “has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their citizens,… to the hemisphere’s relatively egregious violators of fundamental human rights.” That includes military aid, is independent of need, and runs through the Carter period. In another academic study, Latin Americanist Martha Huggins reviewed data for Latin America suggesting that “the more foreign police aid given [by the US], the more brutal and less democratic the police institutions and their governments become.” Economist Edward Herman found the same correlation between US military aid and state terror worldwide, but also carried out another study that gave a plausible explanation. US aid, he found, correlated closely with improvement in the climate for business operations, as one would expect. And in US dependencies it turns out with fair regularity, and for understandable reasons, that the climate for profitable investment and other business operations is improved by killing union activists, torture and murder of peasants, assassination of priests and human rights activists, and so on. There is, then, a secondary correlation between US aid and egregious human rights violations. ”–.htm

Alex April 22, 2009 at 7:33 am

Je suis totalement d’accord. The freedom of religion, including the choice to be free from religion, or to engage in missionary activities, is an essential and non-negotiable part of our modern human rights culture.

. April 30, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Religious nonsense

SIR – I agree that freedom of speech “must include the right to ‘defame’ religions” (“The meaning of freedom”, April 4th). The UN Human Rights Council, which adopted a resolution decrying religious defamation as an affront to human dignity, is controlled mostly by countries that are among the most prolific violators of civil rights, including the right to speak one’s mind.

The blasphemy document itself is remarkable in its scope and deliberate vagueness. Notorious civil-rights violators like Iran and Saudi Arabia will now be able to claim with some confidence that the UN is on their side when they clamp down on liberal-minded or secular Muslims. Western countries will also be happy to note that the council thinks the human right to free speech is not violated when they enforce their own, less draconian, blasphemy laws. The UN has firmly established itself as a body that is not even prepared to defend the basic principles enshrined in its Declaration of Human Rights.

Udo Schuklenk
Professor of philosophy
Queen’s University
Kingston, Canada

The following letter appears online only

SIR – The right to examine and disagree with any institution, especially the church or state, benefits the object of inspection. The UN Human Rights Council’s decision to forbid “defamation” of religion fails to recognise the benefits of scrutiny in evaluating the integrity of a religion.

Islam is strong enough to withstand criticism. If the countries that lobbied for the UN vote believe this, the resolution would not have passed.

Stephen Wong
Germantown, Maryland

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