Human Rights First Urges Secretary Clinton to Speak Up for Freedom of Expression in Appearances at United Nations General Assembly

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to use her meetings and appearances at the United Nations General Assembly to reiterate the U.S. government’s commitment to freedom of expression in light of the string of violent protests across the Middle East. In a public letter today, the organization praised the Secretary’s repudiation of the content of an inflammatory anti-Muslim film, but stressed that violence is never the appropriate response to speech. “As world attention shifts this week to the United Nations General Assembly, and with freedom of expression under growing attack, we urge you to continue to speak out publicly in support of free speech,” Human Rights First’s President and CEO Elisa Massimino wrote. “This is essential to combat the global challenge of religious intolerance as well as to promote legitimate demands of the people of the Middle East for human rights and more representative government.” Human Rights First has worked successfully on previous UN resolutions that combat religious intolerance without including the dangerous concept of “defamation of religions,” which often provides cover for abusive national blasphemy laws. Human Rights First has long argued that this concept is inconsistent with universal human rights standards that protect individuals rather than abstract ideas or religions. Blasphemy laws promote a stifling atmosphere in which governments can restrict the freedoms of expression, thought and religion, and persecute religious minorities. However, as Massimino noted in her letter, “Dropping the defamation concept from UN resolutions has not deterred states from seeking to strengthen anti-blasphemy provisions in their national laws, and even adding such provisions to their constitutions. Nor has it prevented some countries from seizing the moment to again promote a global blasphemy code at the United Nations.” Human Rights First has long advocated that the Obama Administration make efforts to combat bigotry and hate speech without further restricting freedom of speech by:

  • Presenting a clear message from the United States on the need to fight against hatred, bigotry and religious intolerance while upholding international standards of freedom of expression.
  • Emphasizing that laws designed to punish speech deemed to be offensive to religion end up restricting religious freedom, targeting religious minorities and providing avenues for extremists to set the limits of acceptable discourse.

“The recent protests also demonstrate that those who promote a framework that seeks to restrict speech in the name of avoiding offense are pursuing an agenda that is hostile to democratic reforms and human rights,” concluded Massimino in the letter. “In that respect, freedom of expression – or the erosion of it – should remain a barometer to measure the success of a country’s transition to democracy.”

Press

Published on September 25, 2012

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