Freedom of Expression and Defamation of Religion with Caroline Fourest, Mohamed Sifaoui, Floyd Abrams, Angela Wu, Patrick Gaubert, Brett Schaefer

A panel including scholar and practitioner of international religious liberty law, Angela Wu; Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs for The Heritage Foundation, Brett Schaefer; expert on US constitutional law and freedom of speech, Floyd Abrams; director, teacher, columnist, and the co-founder of the journal ProChoix who has previously written for Charlie Hebdo, Caroline Fourest; Algerian-French journalist and commentator, Mohamed Sifaoui, address the 1st Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.


Full remarks


Angela Wu: Brett if I could ask you to answer the question regarding limitations on freedom of expression in the context of not just this resolution, but in the context of how the OIC has participated in the United Nations in general, at the Human Rights Council,

Brett Schaeffer: Let me just state, again, I’m not Steven Groves. I’ll take this down. Now that the speaker has gotten over to me, I’m Brett Schaeffer, and I don’t want any potential remarks that you may not agree with to be attributed to him by mistake. Let me just first talk about the beginning. 

And I guess my fundamental thought about this question about whether there should be limitations on freedom of expression, freedom of speech, is what is the purpose of having a right to freedom of expression or freedom of speech? And that is, is it to protect people’s rights to say bland and inoffensive things? And I would argue, probably not. If something you say is bland or inoffensive, there’s few chances anybody’s going to try and stop you from saying it. So really, the whole concept of freedom of expression, freedom of speech, is meant to protect the right of individuals to actually say, disturbing, possibly offensive, or at the very least, issues subject to some debate and disagreement. And so when you take that into account, the question is, how far does that right go, does that protection extend to? And I would argue, at least based on my experience in the United States, which has a very expansive view at this point, that that line has to be very far. Because when you take into account who is potentially the target of this type of objectionable or disagreeable or debatable speech, almost inevitably it’s somebody powerful. It’s either somebody in the government, it’s somebody in some sort of powerful institution. In this case, we’re talking about a religion or religious figures. And those that are saying objectionable or disagreeable or debatable points about these powerful figures need the protection that a freedom of expression or freedom of speech, right provides them to sort of engage in the marketplace of ideas, which leads to hopefully a more insightful analysis of various projects or ideas that are put on the table and hopefully a more pluralistic and, and healthy society in general. 

And so, from my perspective, when you have blasphemy or sacrilegious statements or cartoons in the Danish context, that for better or for worse, you need to have these types of, of expression protected. Otherwise, what’s the point in having freedom of expression in the first place?  As far as the OIC in the Human Rights Council, this is the practice of the OIC and the practice of some states at the Human Rights Council, as far as the freedom of expression belies their overt or their stated commitment to that right. Because when you look at NGOs that come before the council to try and reveal or talk about various incidents of oppression, various incidents of human rights abuses in the council, repeatedly you see, not always the OIC but often a member the OIC, issue points of objection, interrupting the NGO testimony repeatedly with the sole purpose of trying to intimidate the speaker, and to try and discourage future repetition of these types of confrontations or revelations of what is actually occurring on the ground. And so the practice of the OIC in the form of the Human Rights Council is one that is discouraging freedom of expression, freedom of speech, and is discouraging investigation into these very troublesome situations. And it’s something that should be taken in context when you hear them talk about their effort to try and promote freedom of expression and freedom of speech only to try and protect against defamation religions. And I agree with the earlier speaker, the sole intent of this effort is simply to try and provide cover and justification for what are excessive and onerous efforts domestically by many of these countries to try and repress discussion of religion, practice of religions other than the dominant religion, [] or discussions of problems that are occurring are committed by that government in that country.

Angela Wu: Thank you. So that actually leads nicely into my next question. Caroline actually was talking earlier about how even how freedom of speech is administered is nuanced between different European countries. The greatest criticism of the defamation of religions concept has really been that it protects ideas rather than individuals, which is contrary to almost every other human rights movement. So traditionally, to defame a person, you would need to say something that was untrue about the person and there would be an inquiry in the court as to whether what you said was factually untrue. But the idea of defaming religion would require the state to decide what’s true, or not true, about a religion. At the same time. I was wondering whether, actually Mr. Gaubert could address some of these questions and maybe Mr. Abrams, as well. In the United States, for example, we have one of the best known cases has allowed [this] where the United States courts allowed Nazis, despite how abhorrent most people find their ideology to be, to march through Peoria, Peoria, Illinois, Skokie, Illinois, I’m sorry, and have a public demonstration. Whereas in Europe, there are more stringent hate speech laws and in some countries even Holocaust denial laws that control what you can and cannot say about the Holocaust. So I’ll play the devil’s advocate and ask sort of the difficult governance question again of where do you draw the line and how it is different to control that kind of speech regarding the Holocaust, or and what constitutes incitement to hatred, as opposed to just vehement opposition to somebody’s idea, or even somebody’s lifestyle, as opposed to defamation of religion in in this particular context. Mr. Gaubert and Abrams, but perhaps the other panellists have something to say as well.

Patrick Gaubert: First of all, every time a law needs to be turned up it’s a kind of negation of dialogue T because the dialogue was not possible and things went too far. In France, for example, the so-called N’Guesso Law, which is against the negation of the Holocaust, it took years to draw it up because things went too far and at some point things one had to say stop. In Europe, for example, in the European Parliament, we had legislation to ensure a fight against discrimination. Should there be the need to drop laws which prevent discrimination? Well, unfortunately, there are men and women who are undergoing such terrible pressure in their lives because of discrimination that one has to draw up legislation. In the United States there are things which can be said, which cannot be said in our country. And sometimes documents come from the United States, sometimes these documents are quite sensitive, and there’s nothing you can do about them, because we can’t really accept them. The League Against Racism and Antisemitism in France tried to take Yahoo to court, but it wasn’t possible. Laws against Nazi ideology, those laws are also quite difficult. In Europe, for example, we go quite far in not limiting things. But when it matters go too far, then we try to legislate.

Floyd Abrams: I’ll start with a comment on some of the words that we’ve been using because they’re used in this area. I don’t think we have an Islamophobia problem. We have a free speech phobia problem. I don’t think that it should be illegal to engage in quote “incitement to hatred” unquote, in and of itself. That is to say, people ought to be allowed in a democratic society to hate as well as love. And they ought to be allowed to think very badly of other people for just about any reason in the world. And that’s something different in my view, than incitement to violence. And sometimes the same speech will be both. But I think we have to be very careful when we talk about concepts, legal concepts, such as laws designed to prevent incitement to hatred. 

Now, it is true, as the last speaker correctly observed, that in the area of what I’ll call hate speech, there is a different European and American approach. Indeed, there is a uniquely American approach, which is shared nowhere else in the world so far as I know, in terms of the degree of protection we afford to quote “hate speech” as well as other speech. When President Carter signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, he annexed a reservation saying that this would not give authority to any state or the federal government to pass any law inconsistent with the Bill of Rights. Which is a way of saying in polite diplomatic language, thanks but no thanks. We’ll do our best but we’re not going to pass laws aimed at speech in this area. One line on why I think we think about this a little bit differently. First or two lines. 

First, we do have a different history. Europe has been ravaged by the results of certain types of speech. And, Europeans, much more than Americans, saw that speech when it was being voiced and understood the potential dangers of it. From an American perspective, I think we are more concerned not about taking away someone’s right to say something interesting. We’re more concerned about giving the government the power to do it. We’re more concerned about and entrusting to Congress, and entrusting to the courts, and trusting to any government entity, the authority to say that speech, that particular speech, is so offensive, so beyond the pale, so inherently threatening, that we will not allow it. I mean from my own view, we allow the protection of hate speech, as in the Skokie case, not because we think the speech has any value at all. It is not valuable and it is, to some degree, dangerous. We don’t want the government involved though in the decision making process about what’s valuable, what’s dangerous, how to strike a proper balance. So sure, on the outskirts, we will say, yes, incitement to violence, with the intent that there’ll be violence and the likelihood that there’ll be violence, sure, in that sort of case, we will say it can be banned. but just about nowhere else. And so, I view it as our being willing to pay the price of hate speech, not getting the benefits of it. The price of hate speech in return for avoiding the dangers of government intervention into this very, very difficult and fragile area.

Angela Wu: I think we’re going to start having a real discussion now. Mr. Gaubert actually had a short, un petit mot. And then, Mr. Sifaoui, Madame Fourest, and Mr. Swearengen.

Patrick Gaubert: I’ll let you be the judge. Few months ago, we had a discussion at the European Parliament on homophobia. Should one legislate against homophobia? And some MPs said no. I just listened. I do not like monkeys. Should we vote on a law against hatred of monkeys? When you hear these sorts of things, yes a lot voted against homophobia because we had to do it in view of the way in which in some countries, in a number of countries, homosexuals are attacked, physically attacked, and verbally attacked. And so we had to vote for this law because we had to protect homosexuals as we would do this also to protect other groups of the population who are under threat in certain countries. 

Mohamed Sifaoui: Now, as far as I’m concerned, in a democracy you can and you may say anything except advocate hatred, advocate negation of others, and incite violence against others, because of real or supposed differences between ourselves and the others. Now, this happens to be a topic that I’m very, very interested in. Earlier on, when I arrived here by tram, I just finished reading Mein Kampf. And I bought the book for a friend, Antoine Vitkin, who’s just written a remarkable book of inquiry into the book and explains how Hitler wrote this book. Now, Hitler had the nerve to say what he thought, and not only that, but to justify it. It was a political project in which he reveals the very basis of his thought, his ideology. In other words, the words have apt be used. We’re talking about ideology. People who want to defend or criticise certain ways in which Islam is attacked, they’re not doing this because they are very spiritual people, but because they’re defending an ideology. They want to instrumentalize their religion, for political purposes, and ideological purposes. So it is becoming very important to stop any attempt to forbid, prohibit, criticism of extreme views which are being imposed on the world as a whole. I’m going to try and be brief, but it’s a very complex subject. 

Now, let’s start at the beginning. I have never heard anyone criticise the fact that Muslims pray five times a day. I’ve never heard anyone say “well it’s completely stupid to go to Mecca on a pilgrimage.” I have heard more people say it’s stupid to go to lood, for example. Or that it was not very progressive, to go to Mass once a week. In fact, I’ve heard far more people criticising the fact that people use the Quran and promise to terrorists blowing themselves up. Large number of virgins when they get to paradise. I think that needs to be a criticism of those who want to make slaves of their women simply because this is their way of backward thinking. These people need to be criticised. Criticise the way of thinking of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is extremely insidious, and infiltrating our way of thinking. Well if that is Islamophobia, then I’m the first of the Islamophobists. If you criticise Wahhabi Islam, which will sentence a 70 year old woman to so many lashes simply because she allowed 25 year old men to come and visit her to bring her something. Well, this is absolutely ridiculous and needs to be criticised. If this is Islamophobia, criticising this kind of behaviour, then I’m an Islamophobe. 

We must not wait here. We must not be undecided. Those who in my view say that we’re in a war of religion, this is totally wrong I think. Those who are speaking of the shock of civilizations are wrong too in my opinion. But we have a confrontation, a shock of values. And this is not something which opposes the north and the south. It’s not something which opposes Muslims and non-Muslims. There are also non-Muslims in the extreme left wing, for example, who defend a very backward way of thinking in the name of cultural relativism. And I think this is the worst kind of racism; those who say directly or insidiously, that everyone is open to universal values except Muslims. Because that’s what it’s all about, it’s people saying that democracy is a very good thing, but only for the North. It’s to consider that freedom of expression is an extraordinary thing but it’s only good for large European countries. And for Arab countries, for Africa and for other developing regions of the world, it’s no good. And this kind of way of thinking leads to the beating of a young woman who’s been holding hands with a young man, or it leads to a situation where 12 year old girls, as in Iran, are married off forcibly, as in Yemen as well, because it’s divine law that ordains it. This is the shock of values with which we are confronted today. And the West – and I’m repeating this, because it’s a very important thing. Western societies must be aware of what is at stake. What is at stake, which is ideology. We spoke about legislation, we must speak about policies as well. Because even if there are laws, even if there is legislation, which allows one to say things because we’re in a democracy. And when this kind of leaden blanket comes down on us and where people self-censor expression, or do not allow others to use a right, which they have by the concert of rights of the Constitution, then the situation gets very difficult. And perhaps in 10 years from now, we shall meet again, and we will have a situation which is far worse than it is today. 

Durban one, Durban two, and if there’s going to be a Durban three, some kind of folklore will start, and it’s going to open a new era. Not a very nice one. So I can tell you there is an ideology []. And I can tell you for 20 years now, I have been working on this subject. It’s been 20 years since I’ve started denouncing religious extremism in Islam. It’s 20 years since I’ve been called an alarmist. Now I will probably continue being that because all the alarm bells that I have been trying to ring, I unfortunately was right to do that. Because things have proven to turn out the way I feared. Now we’re going to have a folklore if we continue like this. And the situation that we’re going to see will be absolutely farcical and in reality, will speak of not just the fact that we will no longer be able to criticise the ideological transformation of religion. 

And I’ll finish now, by saying this. You’ll see the situation of the Western societies. Everyone’s heard of the revisionist Bishop Williamson, and of course, everyone was up in arms. But it should have been… In fact, people should have heard the speech of an Islamic Imam. He said that the Jews were punished three times. First by the Babylonians, then by the Romans. And then he said that next time he hoped it would be the Muslims. And this was disseminated very widely on the internet, and a large part of the Islamic world heard this. If this is not fascism and incitement to hatred, I don’t know what it is. These words were published one week after the words of Williamson. Everyone condemned Williamson but on the other side, nobody said anything. And nobody wanted to hear it, nobody wanted to say anything, and nobody wanted to see it. This is an illustration of what the western societies and the Western elites and the Western policies are in their fight, or lack thereof, against this poison that is threatening all of us. Thank you.

Caroline Fourest: To continue this very important debate on limits, should there be limits or shouldn’t there be any, I don’t think you can say that there is no country where there’s no restriction of freedom of expression. I mean, we have no competition there. The question nowadays is to know whether one should encourage or restrict discourse – which may lead to hatred expressions, pogroms, violence – or whether one should suppress a critical discussion and expression of ideas. 

Now, homophobia is completely different to Islamophobia. Homophobia means hatred of a person, because of that person’s existence, because of what that person is. If we said that homosexuals are monkeys, and they do not have the right to life, what sort of argument cannot oppose this? This is not a debate, a discussion of ideas. This is simply an accusation against the category of population, inviting people to kill them. And this needs to be restricted in the name of anti-racism. It’s not because some people use anti-racism to stop the discussion of ideas and criticism of religion. [] This does not mean that we shouldn’t have any anti-racist laws, Islamophobia is not the same category as homophobia. Islamophobia does not mean hatred of Muslims because they are Muslims. They are human beings. If someone said if Muslims are inferior human beings and should be exterminated, then I think Mr. [inaudible] can be quite right in condemning this, and I’d be quite happy to have a symbolic fine. But this statement would be something that would incite hatred and violence. 

When we published the caricatures in Charlie Hebdo, we got three complaints from Islamic organisations, including one from a Wahhabi organisation. But I am not sorry that we have this court case. And I am also glad that we are living in a country, in France, where we have a different system from the United States. Each country has its own legislation and legal system. Our laws and our tribunals are very public. And it is possible to have arbitration and see where one can go. The court case involving Charlie Hebdo was a very good moment because lots of organisations came and said, “We think that Charlie Hebdo falls under the anti racist law because, by publishing the caricatures, they fall under this law.” We said that we are totally anti-racist. It was a drawing where we showed, a drawing where we have Muhammad was very down, crestfallen, and stricken down because of the attitudes of the Islamists who were doing very bad things to their own people. We also showed that there were a lot of anti-racist characters. So the court recognized that the publication of the 12 caricatures was a contribution to the public debate and not criticism of Islam. So there is a difference between saying, well Islam is an archaic religion, or it should evolve, or Islam is used to justify bombs. This is a discussion of ideas. But it’s not a reason for allowing people to say, you have to kill Tasmila Nasrin, there should be a new Holocaust, or something like that. To say that you have to kill Mohammed Safavi or Taslima Nasrim. I am very happy that people who said things like that in my country were taken to court and centres. Europe, prepare for a new Holocaust, which I have heard, said by English protesters, this should have perhaps not merited prison. But certainly a certain fine. I think French law has to exist, and has to evolve. For me, it is quite normal that there’s an open and very polemical discussion. It’s very healthy. One should not put Mr. Williamson into prison for what he said. It’s not a simple matter. It’s very complex. It’s very complicated. And it’s also a difficult fight that we have to lead. But it’s still an open debate.

Angela Wu: Mr. Schaeffer, I’d like to try to reserve some time for audience questions. So I do have another question for you immediately following: if you could keep your remarks very short.

Brett Schaeffer: I’ll keep it brief. Why is this issue coming up? It’s coming up because countries that, or populations that were formerly fairly insulated, are now confronting ideas that they were not confronted with before. It’s a byproduct of globalisation. It’s a byproduct of interaction between peoples of populations, other faiths, other religions. Just a byproduct of the entire globalisation experience. And this is not something you’re going to undo. And when taken into the context of how you deal with different religious faiths within a single community, you can point to the United States. Not to keep returning to it, but simply because the United States itself has had to deal with multiple faiths within its society for a long time. And when you get into this tit for tat through the legal system among religious groups over what is and what is not offensive to other religious groups, you have an escalation of constraints on freedom of speech, freedom of expression, which I think is unhealthy. And rather than just go on about this, let me quote the Supreme Court, which I think said it very eloquently, and that is “in the realm of religious faiths, and in that of a political belief, sharp differences arise. In both fields, the tenants of one man may seem the rankest error to his neighbour. To persuade others of his own point of view, the pleader, as we know, at times resorts to exaggeration, to vilification of men, who have been or are prominent in the church or state, and even to false statements. That the people of this nation have ordained that in the light of history, that in spite of the probability that excesses and abuses may occur, these liberties are in fact in longer essential to enlightened opinion in the right conduct on the part of the citizens of a democracy.” Now, what does this mean for the global stage? If you go and get engaged in this tit for tat on the part of Islamophobia to try and restrict criticism of that religion, the other religions have similar ability to constrain one another. This is not a healthy discussion of differences. This is not a means for resolving differences. This is simply a bottling up of aggressions and differences that almost inevitably will come out in a destructive or counterproductive manner. 

And when you take a look at the Durban Declaration, you see four specific references that would, in this vein, constrict freedom of expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly in two cases. And this, I think, is extremely unhelpful in terms of advancing fundamental human rights, and engaging in a real honest discussion of differences between individuals, between different faiths and trying to resolve them peacefully. And it’s really disheartening that an organisation charged with championing human rights, the UN Human Rights Council, results in a document that attacks the fundamental strengths and pillars of the entire human rights system. And I’ll go ahead and leave it at that. And then if you have a question.

Patrick Gaubert: I haven’t quite understood what Mrs. Fourest said on Williamson, Mr. Williamson. What discussion? Discussion on the Shoah? Debate on to know how many millions of deaths there were? Is that discussion on concentration camps? The debate … Now I can’t really see it. Are we still debating on that? Well, no, you’re not going to attack me on this are you? But I will give you a reply. 

Caroline Fourest: In fact, I’m being accused of directly being at the heart of the Williamson, or at the origin of the Williamson debate, or the Williamson affair. I simply said that I have had a discussion with defenders of Article 19 according to the American Vision of freedom of expression, which led me to doubt the fact that in the European view, namely to the European view of negating the Holocaust, which was problematic. Namely that one should not completely ban it, whereas one should ban the invitation to hatred through the negation of the Holocaust. I’m not saying that we should negate the Holocaust. But with regard to Williamson, what was far more useful was the polemic that existed, that grew throughout the world around Mr. Williamson. And one should not have negationists that will become martyrs. There are countries where there is the law and other countries where there is no law against negationists, and it needs to be combated as strangely as possible.

Angela Wu: So I think that question was actually very good. And in the context of defamation of religion, particularly when we’re talking about who should be deciding what ideas can and cannot be discussed. And I think Mr. Abrams, brought up one particular model, which is to say that the state doesn’t make the decision of whether or not Islam or any other religion is compatible with human rights. It leaves it rather to private parties, to religious groups, to decide those questions themselves. Whether the Bible is compatible or is subject to different interpretations; the same goes for the Quran and other documents. But I think that that debate, and the ultimate answer of whether states want to enter into which one of these doctrines is compatible with ideas, ultimately goes back to whether the polity, so the entire population, can really even settle on what human rights actually means, and which civil principles you’re going to defend. And then say, well, religious institutions and religious communities can act on their own, even if it’s in a different way, so long as it doesn’t affect those who don’t want to participate in that way. I think I saw a hand from the gentleman here.

Question #1: My name is Ahmed Sharma. I’m from the Center for Inquiry International. And I have a question whether we have not actually been neglecting the positive side of free inquiry, critical thinking and the openness to question ideas in what it brings for the prosperity of a country. And that many of the countries who impose restrictions on these [] are doing a great disservice to their own country because people are not getting advances in science or arts, humanities, technology. And even those who are inventive and creative then decide to go outside the country and bring these results to other countries. So bring the positive side of this out, instead of just looking at the negative side, which of course are very important as well. 

Angela Wu: Was that a statement or a question?

Question #1 (cont…): I’d like to ask the question: Have you not been neglecting the positive side of this?

Angela Wu: Are you directing it toward anyone in particular?

Question #1 (cont…): Well, no. Not anyone in particular.

Angela Wu: I think I’ll give the floor to Mr. Sifaoui.

Mohamed Sifaoui: Before I answer the question, allow me to give you time to put your headset on, allow me to get back to what we said earlier on the compatibility of Islam and Quran with universal values and human rights. I am one of those who think that a religion is only what you turn it into. A religion is what a person, a believer, makes of it. Religion can be extremely barbarous, but it can also be extremely tolerant. And unfortunately, nowadays, we’re not undertaking surveys to understand that. Where Quranic law is applied, barbarism reigns supreme. So we don’t have to investigate matters. In Sudan we have Islamic law. In Pakistan, we have Islamic law. In Afghanistan, we have Islamic law. In Saudi Arabia, there is Islamic law, as there is in Iran. This ideological aspect of religion has this effect. Now, in both cases, whether a religion is completely compatible with human rights, or if it is completely incompatible, in both cases, it should be something we should not be concerned about. Because we are not discussing what is uppermost. Is it the law of God or is it the law of men? If we agree on the principle, if we agree with this principle that the modern world ensures that it is the law made by legislators, democratically elected, which prime over the law of God, whatever the barbarism, which is intrinsic to a religion, or lack thereof, this barbarism cannot be exercised. And this is where we have to do far more teaching and awareness building. By saying clearly that it is the law of man, which prevails over the law of God in our democracies. 

And there’s another thing which I forgot to highlight. Namely, amongst the positive factors, if I’ve understood the question correctly, as regards historically speaking, I think we have a very simple reply. Whenever there is some focusing on the dogma of religion, there is a regression and I think Islam is no exception. In Islam, the two periods where there was the greatest development scientifically, intellectually, philosophically, these were periods where philosophers had taken power in society. And they prevailed over the guardians of the temple, over all those who were ideologues and wanted dogma to be at the centre. Every time philosophers took power, there were great strides forward, scientifically, and so on. Of course, there were the shortcomings of the period. But these were the best times, the most admirable periods, of Islam. Nevertheless, on the other hand, every time the religious fanatics and the dogmatists took power, everything regressed. Development has always not been suppressed by periods of dogma. 

Nowadays, I think that if Islamic societies are so stuck and rigid, it’s because they had to undergo two successive periods. One where nationalism, excessive nationalism, pre-dominated, and where any ideas that were independent or liberated, were suppressed. And just after that nationalistic period came a period of politicised Islam, which spread, and continues to spread, and which prohibits any rational thought. So with fanatical Islam, with [inaudible] Islam, you cannot expect any scientific advances in the Arab and the Muslim world as we know it today.

Angela Wu: I am going to give the other panellists just the last word here. So starting with Mr. Gaubert back and onwards. We’ve talked today about two different worlds. I think those were Caroline’s words. The incompatibility, if you will, of the concept of what is and is not offensive and how we draw those lines. But the final question, especially in the context of Durban, is, is there a way forward?

Patrick Gaubert: Well, I’m going to be very down to earth. Document One and Document Two. Document One, which is absolutely horrendous and which is actually the REAL program Document Two was drawn up under pressure. And I think we’ll get back to Document Two in the discussion that we’ll have. The European Union negotiated… Well, that’s a bit of a joke, isn’t it? The European Union negotiates, France says they don’t know what they say, they don’t know what they’re doing, Italy cops out… So where’s the coherence of the European Union? Two major democracies left; the United States and Canada. I would remind you that the United States did not attend. They came, they saw, and they left. So something must have been wrong. Now, like others, I too, was present at Durban. And in fact, we were simply manipulated. They got the better of us. I was really ashamed when I was there. I was ashamed because I went to fight against discrimination. I went there to fight against all forms of racism. I went there to fight against all forms of antisemitism. I went there to protect children, which are being used as soldiers, and women who are being victimised. But what did I really experience? I experienced anti-semitism. I experienced countries, which themselves violate human rights, and they tried very much with their friends to find a scapegoat, namely Israel, so that they would not be talked about. And now, we would like not to experience the same shame, again. The same shame that we experienced the first time. Who are we here for? Who are we representing? We have to defend other people. We have to tell the country’s you must change, you must respect human rights. This is what we have to do. And if we can’t manage it this time then, my friends, for all women and children and all the others who are suffering, it’s really, really a sad moment. And if we have to go away, if we have to leave because things go too far, then that’s what we’ll have to do.

Angela Wu: I’m unfortunately being given the signal that we’re out of time here. So I’m going to allow each of the following speakers two sentences exactly, and you’ll help me with this won’t you.

Caroline Fourest: I would just like to say that I was horrified at what happened in Durban One. It’s not the same as what’s happened at the NGO conference. If we don’t want to go back to the United Nations because the negotiations are very difficult. Before you leave for good and before you have a situation the same as the Human Rights Council, I just want us to see what is going to happen in the long term. The Human Rights Council will have a 2011 plan, and democratic countries will no longer be able to re-discuss the new principles, and there’s going to be a complete dislocation of human rights at the UN. And this is going to bring back barbarism. And this is not a minor risk at the time of great tension with Iran. This merits to ensure that there’s no disinformation in texts, that we should not say that they’re scandalous, and hateful when they are just bad. It’s not the same thing. And secondly, one should not have positions of principle in order to gratify oneself. Because if this conference against racism goes down the drain, then all of those who are protected by the platform, the Muslim countries and so on, will be the winners. I am horrified that Ahmadinejad is going to be at the conference. And if it was Barack Obama who attended the conference, nobody would even give a glance to Mr. Ahmadinejad. 

Floyd Abrams: Just a final note. Not so much about what will happen tomorrow and this week, and the consequences of it. Just an expression of incredulity that we should have to sit here today and talk about whether a resolution should really be adopted, which has the effect of banning speech about some of the most important ideas in the world. When Martin Luther in 1517 posted his thesis on the wall and condemned the Pope for granting and for selling indulgences and for and for granting what he called the mad idea granting pardons for sins, he was excommunicated, finally. But the idea that four centuries later, we’re talking about the question of whether it should have been illegal, or maybe now should be illegal to say something really bad about a religion, fills me with sadness. Apart from the fact that members of this panel agree on so much more than we disagree.

Angela Wu: Brett, I think you get the last word.

Brett Schaeffer: One is to get a perspective of this conference. Mark Malloch Brown, who is a member of the British Foreign Ministry and former official over at the United Nations, characterises it as damage control, or damage limitation I think. That’s a really sad statement as to what we’re talking about here, which is trying to create an international standard for combating racism. That is not a standard or a form that you should be entering into willingly. Frankly, the numbers are against you. You have more countries that are not committed to this process than are… And therefore the results that we have are, frankly, unsurprising. And at some point, there’s a fear that if you don’t participate, the results may be worse. Well, if the results are worse, then they’ll simply reflect what is the reality of the process that is going on right now. And if that embarrassment doesn’t lead countries to change, then what will? I mean damage limitation only takes you so far. Death by a thousand cuts on human rights has no virtue. Thanks.

Speakers and Participants

Brett Schaefer

Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs at the Heritage Foundation

Angela Wu

Scholar and practitioner of international religious liberty law


Human Rights

The Dishonor of Honor Killings with Jacqueline Thibault

Jacqueline Thibault, founder of ‘Fondation Surgir,’ a human rights organization which supports feminist groups in Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Switzerland, addresses the 4th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks. Full remarks Philippe Robinet:  […] as blasphemy laws and honor killings, the “Fondation Surgir”, lives

Human Rights

Beyond the Arab Spring with Ebrahim Mehtari, Maikel Nabil, Tom Gross

A panel including journalist and commentator specializing in the Middle East and human rights, Tom Gross; Iranian activist who was arrested, jailed, tortured, and physically abused by the Iranian Regime after taking part in the Green Movement demonstrations of 2009, Ebrahim Mehtari; and an Egyptian blogger and political activist, Maikel

Human Rights

Do Human Rights Matter? with Alfred Moses

Ambassador Alfred Moses, Chair of United Nations Watch, addresses the 11th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks. On the battle for human rights in the world: “It has always been a battle between freedom and oppression.” “We had total oppression

Opening Speech with Markus Löning

Markus Löning, Chair of the Human Rights Committee at Liberal International, addresses the 7th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks. Full Remarks Hillel Neuer: Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Hillel Neuer, I am the Executive Director of UN Watch, and it is