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Press Protests UN Chief Over Human Rights Council

World's Press Protests to UN Chief Over Human Rights Council

Paris, 9 April 2008 - The World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum have protested to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, against a UN decision to investigate the "abuse" of freedom of expression where it constitutes "religious discrimination."

In a letter to Mr Ban, the Paris-based WAN and WEF said a decision by the UN Human Rights Council to require its special rapporteur on freedom of expression to investigate such cases was part of "a negative trend against freedom of expression" within the Council.

"The Council's resolution, proposed by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, is part of a dangerous, backward campaign to equate critical portrayal of religion with racism," said Timothy Balding, the CEO of WAN.

"It is intolerable that a UN body should give credit to this thesis, which completely undermines the basis of freedom of opinion and expression enjoyed in democracies," he added. "Which groups will be next in line asking the United Nations to protect them from free opinion?"

The resolution by the Council, which requires the special rapporteur to investigate "abuse" of freedom of expression that "constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination", goes against the spirit of the role of the special reporter and is unnecessary, said the letter to Mr Ban.

The resolution also fails to provide an "appropriate balance" between protecting freedom of expression and the need to limit incitement to racial and religious hatred, the letter said.

The UN Human Rights Council came into existence in 2006 as a replacement for the discredited UN Commission on Human Rights, which had been dominated by countries that abused human rights. But the new Council has also been criticised as a platform for human rights abusers seeking to undermine its work.

The letter to the UN Secretary General, which calls on him to protect the mandate of the special rapporteur, said:

"We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications in 102 countries, to express our dismay at the adoption by the UN Human Rights Council of a resolution that undermines the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Opinion and Expression.

"On 28 March, the UN Human Rights Council approved an amendment proposed by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) that undermines the Special Rapporteur's mandate and may have a negative impact on freedom of expression. The amendment requires the Special Rapporteur to "report on instances where the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination, taking into account Articles 19(3) and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and General Comment 15 of the Committee on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination which stipulates that the prohibition of the dissemination of all ideas based upon racial superiority or hatred is compatible with the freedom of opinion and expression."

"The resolution goes against the spirit of the role of the Special Rapporteur by requiring him to look at abusive expression rather than focusing on the more widespread problem of abusive limits on expression. The resolution also lacks balance in focusing on restrictions to freedom of expression, rather than on the idea of an appropriate balance between the positive protection for the right to freedom of expression and the need to limit incitement to racial and religious hatred.

"Furthermore, the amendment is unnecessary - it is inherent in the mandate that the Special Rapporteur should consider and comment on appropriate limitations to the right to freedom of expression - and open to misinterpretation.

"We are concerned at what appears to be the emergence of a negative trend against freedom of expression in the UN Human Rights Council. On 30 March 2007, the Council passed a resolution, sponsored by Pakistan on behalf of the OIC, which opened the door to states restricting freedom of expression on the grounds that it might offend religious sensibilities.

"We respectfully call on you to do everything possible to protect the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. We also ask that you take all possible steps to ensure that international standards of freedom of expression are fully supported by the UN Human Rights Council and not undermined by resolutions such as this."

ENDS

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