22 April 2009

Member states should not boycott UN anti-racism meeting, say IFEX members

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IFEX members ARTICLE 19 and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) are "extremely concerned" by the recent decision of the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands to withdraw from the UN anti-racism conference, also known as the Durban Review, and are calling on other states not to follow their example.

According to news reports, the U.S. boycotted this week's meeting over objectionable language in the meeting's draft outcome document that could single out Israel for criticism and restrict free speech.

But ARTICLE 19 and CIHRS say the document is an "important breakthrough in the negotiations," and "contains some of the most significant positive developments for freedom of expression in recent times."

For instance, the document does not reference "defamations of religions", a concept that protects religion from criticism and is incompatible with human right law. A defamation of religions resolution was recently adopted at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

According to Moataz El Fegiery, executive director of CIHRS, "The replacement of 'defamation of religion' with language protecting an individual's freedom of belief represents a significant acknowledgment by the international community that international law does not recognise this concept; and that it should not be used by the United Nations."

The two organisations joined forces with trade unions and other rights groups, including IFEX member Human Rights Watch, to ask states to engage "constructively" in the conference, "refrain from allowing political manoeuvring to undermine the significant improvements that have been made," and "reaffirm the concrete commitment to fight racism and discrimination in all their forms."

"After weeks of intense negotiations, a new language has finally been found which will protect individual believers and not belief systems. Failure of the Durban Review and rejection of its current outcome document will erase this accomplishment. It is very uncertain we will ever get another chance like this," said Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19's executive director.

In a separate initiative, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Doha Centre for Media Freedom are appealing to international bodies and NGOs participating in the conference to sign a declaration agreeing to a group of principles, including the idea that the right to freedom of religion protects the individual but not the religions themselves.

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