June 19, 2008
UN Human Rights Council: Any mention of the word "sharia" is now taboo
UNHRC Titanic hits an Islamic iceberg at the Palais des Nations: Any mention of the word "sharia" is now taboo at the Council
The UN Human Rights Council is not allowed to judge religions, according to president Doru Romulus Costea of Romania. Criticism of Sharia or fatwas in particular is now forbidden.
This ruling follows attempts by the Egyptian and Pakistani delegates at the Council to silence criticism of human rights abuse in the Islamic world.
The representative of the Association for World Education, in a joint statement with the International Humanist and Ethical Union, had denounced the stoning to death of women accused of adultery and of girls being married at the age of nine years old in countries where Sharia law applies.
The speaker, David Littman, was interrupted by no fewer than 16 points of order and the proceedings of the Council were suspended for over half an hour. After this, the Egyptian delegate intervened again to proclaim that "My point is that Islam will not be crucified in this Council" and he raised the spectre of a strong OIC reaction after the result of a vote on whether the speaker should be allowed to continue. The German delegate then asked the Egyptian delegate whether he had correctly heard the term used and, if so, he then asked the president whether this term was "appropriate with regard to the question of mentioning religion and its symbols." He received no answer from either.
On giving his ruling after the break Council President Costea said that the Council is not prepared to discuss religious questions and we don't have to do so: Declarations must avoid judgments or evaluation about religion. We've heard that the fatwa is ambiguous. This is a judgement. This is an evaluation … I promise that next time a speaker judges a religion or a religious law or document, I will interrupt him and pass on to the next speaker, he said.
Littman, who is also a representative for the World Union of Progressive Judaism in Geneva, had been threatened before, following a statement he made on January 24 in which he had begun by mentioning the UN Commemoration of Holocaust Day four days later, and analysing the self-inflicted tragedy in the Gaza Strip, whose origins were to be found in the 1988 genocidal Hamas Charter. This was deemed irrelevant by the Council in the debate to adopt an unbalanced resolution concerning Israeli incursions into Gaza, without any mention of the constant firing of rockets into Israel from Gaza.
When stopped twice by the president, Littman had opined that: "There is a general malaise in the air, a feeling that: Something rotten in the State of …. this Council". For this, the WUPJ had been threatened four months later by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of 134 Member and Observer States with expulsion form the UN and its president summoned to appear before the NGO Committee in New York in early June where the charges were finally dropped after a written apology was made regretting if anyone had been offended by the Shakespearean pun.
The following comments on the "Sharia Affair" of June 16 at the 8th Session of the Human Rights Council have been prepared by David G. Littman, NGO Representative of Association for World Education (AWE) and Roy W. Brown, Representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).
The affair has resulted in lengthy UN stories from AFP and ATS on 17 June, and again on 18 June from AFP, ATS, AP, Reuters, with quotes from President Costea and the departing HCHR Louise Arbour, American Ambassador Warren Tichenor and Amnesty International.
Shipwreck of the Human Rights Council
At 4:40 pm on June 16, David G. Littman was given the floor by the president of the UN Human Rights Council, to deliver a joint statement for the AWE and IHEU under agenda item 8: Integrating the Human Rights of Women throughout the United Nations system.
Within 22 seconds he was stopped on a 'point of order' by the delegate of Egypt. The verbatim transcript has been left exactly as spoken (less the 40 minute break) and can be seen and heard on the UN archive webcast here by scrolling down to item 8 and the presentation by AWE at the very end, with all the others.
At the Third Extraordinary Session of the Islamic Summit held in Mecca on December 5-7 2006, the OIC decided to adopt a policy of zero tolerance against any perceived insults to Islam as part of their overall strategy of advancing the cause of Islam worldwide. The measures agreed upon included creating an "Observatory" to monitor all reports of "Islamophobia". Muslims throughout the world were to be encouraged to report to it any cases of perceived Islamophobia, however trivial. Cases submitted so far, for example, have included Muslims who have received "hostile glances".
At that summit, two imams from Denmark presented the Danish cartoons (including some they had added themselves) and the protests were then organised throughout the Middle East and elsewhere leading to a number of deaths and the burning of the Danish embassy in Beirut.
Plans were also put in place to seek changes in national and international law to provide additional "protection" for Islam. The battlegrounds would include the European and national parliaments, and the UN, including the Human Rights Council. It was also proposed to move towards the creation of a new Charter of Human Rights in Islam, and the setting up of an Islamic Council of Human Rights, to be based not on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but on Sharia law – exactly as the 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam.
Fast forward: 16 June 2008. The Egyptian delegate Amr Roshdy Hassan saw an opportunity to wrong-foot the Council by attacking the statement by AWE/IHEU. They had prepared their ground carefully, breaking protocol by arranging to get an advanced copy of our statement, and finding in our statement on violence against women exactly what they were looking for: David Littman, with whom they had quarrelled in the past, was to be the speaker, and the statement made explicit reference to Sharia law, and the Egyptian complaint was likely to be seen by Western delegates as a further attempt to silence a particularly vocal critic. The OIC however would present the statement as a clear attack on Islam, and by forcing a vote would, in the eyes of the Islamic world, have exposed those who voted in favour of the statement being allowed to continue, as being "anti-Islamic". In the words of Amr Roshdy Hassan, they "will have to face the consequences". In making his case however, Hassan stretched the truth almost beyond breaking point. He claimed that in the first paragraph, the speaker would talk about Egypt and the Sharia law. In fact it makes no mention of Sharia law other than in a note.
However, it does speak about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which, according to UNICEF figures, is still at about 96%, despite State legislation condemning it. He claimed that the second paragraph on "Honour Killings" talks about Sudan, Pakistan and Sharia law. It does not – it quotes President Musharraf as refuting this idea.
Unfortunately, none of the other delegates had copies of the statement and were therefore unable to give the lie to these claims. The third and fourth paragraphs do however speak about the marriage of girls as young as nine years of age in Iran, and the stoning of women to death for adultery in States that apply Sharia law. This truth was what the Egyptian delegate hoped to suppress -- as well as the FGM syndrome in Egypt and in 29 OIC Member States (out of 32 countries where it is common).
The temperature was raided even further when the Pakistani delegate Imran Ahmed Siddiqui speaking for Pakistan said the statement "will amount to spreading hatred against certain members of the Council".
When Hassan, called for a vote, saying: "My point is that Islam will not be crucified in the Council", the President wisely called for another brief break to consult "what the [NGO] speaker had read." After the first break that lasted nearly forty minutes, there had already been a complete capitulation to the Egyptian demands that "this Council is not prepared to discuss matters religious matters in depth. Consequently, we should not do it." And that declarations must avoid judgments or evaluation about religion. And Hassan had achieved part of his objective. His second objective to be able to present Canada, the EU and other Western States as anti-Islamic, will have to wait for another day.