Message from Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director, National Secular Society
Rather than the usual New Year’s resolutions about reducing your credit card debt, losing weight or giving up smoking, we would urge you all to make one about something much more important to future generations. To vow to support Human Rights. For it is they which underpin our way of life – for many they represent one of the greatest achievements of Western civilisation.
The body overseeing Universal Human Rights is the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Taking part in their meetings is a sobering experience. While there are countries, groups and individuals who make wonderful contributions, Human Rights are undoubtedly becoming less universal and inalienable. The individual’s rights are in great danger of becoming alienated in favour of group rights – often for religions.
The proceedings of the UNHRC have become a constant battle between Western nations, on the one hand, and the numerous members of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), aided by a few countries who always support them and in turn receive support from them. These include China, Cuba and even India.
So, the 56 OIC countries are also making considerable progress on an international declaration on defamation of religion – a kind of all-religions blasphemy super law. Anyone seeking to draw attention to the capital offence of apostasy will be lucky even to be heard, and there is no chance of any action. Anything deemed the slightest bit critical of Islam is immediately jumped upon, and possibly even excised from the official record.
But the problem is much more serious even than apostasy laws or threats to freedom of expression. The whole edifice of Universal Human Rights is crumbling before our very eyes, and the “West” is letting it happen. With all the support the OIC can muster, and with painfully little active opposition from the “West”, those supporting the Universal declaration no longer have the upper hand. There are some honourable exceptions such as Canada and Belgium and the EU is a positive influence, but most Western countries are doing little better than wringing their hands, while others do not even do that. The United States is less than helpful, yet with its support and leadership this depressing picture could be so very different.
And the Secretariat are coming under increasing pressure to give the OIC an unobstructed run. The opportunities for non-Governmental organisations that are prepared to speak out — such as the International Humanist and Ethical Union — are being drastically diminished, if not eroded altogether.
The OIC Secretary-General, Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu issued a statement to mark Human Rights Day 2007. It reads, in part (our emphasis added):
Respect of Human Rights through effective protection and promotion of equality, civil liberties and social justice is a milestone in the OIC Ten Year Plan of Action. In this regard the OIC General Secretariat is considering the establishment of [an] independent permanent body to promote Human Rights in the Member States in accordance with the provisions of the OIC Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam and to elaborate an OIC Charter on Human Rights. The OIC is also committed to encourage its member States to reinforce their national laws and regulations in order to guaranty strict respect for Human Right[s].”
According to Wikipedia “The CDHRI concludes that all rights and freedoms mentioned are subject to the Islamic Shariah, which is the declaration’s sole source. The CDHRI declares ‘true religion’ to be the ‘guarantee for enhancing such dignity along the path to human integrity’. It also places the responsibility for defending those rights upon the entire Ummah.” This is paving the way for second-class, religious-based group “rights”, rather than individual Universal Human Rights. And unless we are careful, many of the countries with the greatest need of Universal Human Rights support (and a high proportion of them are in OIC countries) will come under a shariah system. See this excellent report on the problem by IHEU’s Roy Brown who has done so much in this area: and also an exposure of the UN Human Rights Council’s ignoble stance on Darfur.
The United Nations has already completely overhauled its Human Rights machinery and this second attempt has been completely undermined as was the first, discredited, one. The whole Universal Human Rights machinery is unravelling for the second, and perhaps final, time while Western states stand by, drumming their fingers.
Meanwhile, the most vulnerable in the world are being betrayed.
We must all try very much harder to support Human Rights from attack, whether that is from religious or cultural forces. Please do anything you can to raise consciousness of this impending crisis for humanity and to put politicians and diplomats everywhere under pressure to take responsibility for protecting Universal Human Rights.