Obama Sells Out on Free Speech at the UN

07 October 2009
Obama Sells Out on Free Speech at the UN

John Birch Society  07 October 2009 By James Heiser

It has been pretty clear that the Obama administration does not look with particular favor on the second amendment, but it is also becoming increasingly evident that the President is not much of a ‘fan’ of the first one, either.

According to an article by Anne Bayefsky (“You Can’t Say That — At the UN, the Obama administration backs limits on free speech”):

    The Obama administration has marked its first foray into the UN human rights establishment by backing calls for limits on freedom of expression. The newly-minted American policy was rolled out at the latest session of the UN Human Rights Council, which ended in Geneva on Friday. American diplomats were there for the first time as full Council members and intent on making friends.

President Obama chose to join the Council despite the fact that the Organization of the Islamic Conference holds the balance of power and human rights abusers are among its lead actors, including China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia. Islamic states quickly interpreted the president's penchant for "engagement" as meaning fundamental rights were now up for grabs. Few would have predicted, however, that the shift would begin with America's most treasured freedom.

For more than a decade, a UN resolution on the freedom of expression was shepherded through the Council, and the now defunct Commission on Human Rights which it replaced, by Canada. Over the years, Canada tried mightily to garner consensus on certain minimum standards, but the "reformed" Council changed the distribution of seats on the UN's lead human rights body. In 2008, against the backdrop of the publication of images of Mohammed in a Danish newspaper, Cuba and various Islamic countries destroyed the consensus and rammed through an amendment which introduced a limit on any speech they claimed was an "abuse ... [that] constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination."

The Obama administration decided that a revamped freedom of expression resolution, extracted from Canadian hands, would be an ideal emblem for its new engagement policy. So it cosponsored a resolution on the subject with none other than Egypt — a country characterized by an absence of freedom of expression.

Privately, other Western governments were taken aback and watched the weeks of negotiations with dismay as it became clear that American negotiators wanted consensus at all costs. In introducing the resolution on Thursday, October 1 — adopted by consensus the following day — the ranking U.S. diplomat, Chargé d'Affaires Douglas Griffiths, crowed:

"The United States is very pleased to present this joint project with Egypt. This initiative is a manifestation of the Obama administration's commitment to multilateral engagement throughout the United Nations and of our genuine desire to seek and build cooperation based upon mutual interest and mutual respect in pursuit of our shared common principles of tolerance and the dignity of all human beings."

His Egyptian counterpart, Ambassador Hisham Badr, was equally pleased — for all the wrong reasons. He praised the development by telling the Council that "freedom of expression ... has been sometimes misused," insisting on limits consistent with the "true nature of this right" and demanding that the "the media must ... conduct ... itself in a professional and ethical manner."

The new resolution, championed by the Obama administration, has a number of disturbing elements. It emphasizes that "the exercise of the right to freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities ..." which include taking action against anything meeting the description of "negative racial and religious stereotyping." It also purports to "recognize ... the moral and social responsibilities of the media" and supports "the media's elaboration of voluntary codes of professional ethical conduct" in relation to "combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance." The administration’s position should hardly be a shock because the Left almost always speaks of "rights" in terms of group identity — not the individual. Thus every right must be evaluated in terms of identity politics and class struggle (white vs. black, male vs. female, rich vs. poor, bourgeoisie vs. proletariat) and described in terms of victimization and liberation. For the Left, the individual does not have identity or rights — such things are possessions of the collective to which one belongs. Therefore, the administration’s position enunciated before the UN Human Rights Council coincides with the interests of Islamists: silencing critics of Islam by making it impossible to criticize their perverse (by Western standards) and militant worldview. Islam cannot win the war of ideas and cannot yet silence all of its critics through force of arms, so some of its adherents want to silence those who would speak the truth by means of a perversion of the law.

Bayefsky observes that,

    Even the normally feeble European Union tried to salvage the American capitulation by expressing the hope that the resolution might be read a different way. Speaking on behalf of the EU following the resolution's adoption, French Ambassador Jean-Baptiste Mattéi declared that "human rights law does not, and should not, protect religions or belief systems, hence the language on stereotyping only applies to stereotyping of individuals . . . and not of ideologies, religions or abstract values. The EU rejects the concept of defamation of religions." The EU also distanced itself from the American compromise on the media, declaring that "the notion of a moral and social responsibility of the media" goes "well beyond" existing international law and "the EU cannot subscribe to this concept in such general terms."
However, while one can appreciate Bayefsky’s analysis of the perversity of the position taken by the Obama administration, regrettably she has not yet arrived at the correct response. Bayefsky is a Senior Fellow with the Hudson Institute; her website (bayefsky.com) “was designed for the purpose of enhancing the implementation of the human rights legal standards of the United Nations. Accessibility to UN human rights norms by individuals everywhere is fundamental to their successful realization. The information provided herein encompasses a range of data concerning the application of the UN human rights treaty system by its monitoring treaty bodies since their inauguration in the 1970's.”

Bayefsky also serves as editor of EyeontheUN.org, which declares its statement of purpose:

    At the foundation of the UN in 1945, democracy dominated the character of the majority of member states, despite pockets of instability. Nevertheless, democracy was not made a pre-condition for membership in the UN. Sixty years later, the majority of UN members are not full-fledged democracies. The consequences for UN operations and outcomes are profound.

The United Nations rose from the ashes of World War II and the Holocaust. The UN's original vision was that of a beacon for moral values. The Organization was intended to insure the international peace and security that is a precondition for human dignity and mutual respect. ...

The foundational UN principles of equality, universal human rights and fundamental freedoms emanated from a real and immediate sense of wrong and responsibility. As the Nuremberg Tribunal taught, "Crimes against international law are committed by men, not by abstract entities." The UN was to play a central role in the so-called "naming and shaming" of transgressors, and where necessary, was to garner the political will to stop egregious violations of dignity and freedom. The UN, however, has not lived up to the task of "naming," let alone shaming or intervening.

Human rights are the most powerful political currency of our time. But the UN human rights system has squandered the commitment and passion of its original benefactors. Which “original benefactors”? Joseph Stalin, with his three Soviet votes: the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics? The unrepentantly vicious have been welcome in the inner counsels of the UN since its founding.

Dr. Bayefsky has mistaken the UN’s "window dressing" for its actual substance. The UN consistently fails to deliver on such nebulous statements of purpose because it was never actually engineered to fulfill them. That the UN is overrun by the representatives of violent states ruled by varying forms of tyranny is a condition which is not going to change or be reformed. It will never be safe to leave one’s most precious possessions in the care and custody of brigands. The administration’s further capitulation to identity politics at the UN simply demonstrates, among other things, the corrupting power of bad company. It is far easier and more productive to send the UN packing, defend our own liberty, and aid our genuine allies in defending theirs than trying to make criminal nations play well with other.

Rt. Rev. James Heiser has served as Pastor of Salem Lutheran Church in Malone, Texas, while maintaining his responsibilities as publisher of Repristination Press, which he established in 1993 to publish academic and popular theological books to serve the Lutheran Church. Heiser has also served since 2005 as the Dean of Missions for The Augustana Ministerium and in 2006 was called to serve as Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America (ELDoNA). An advocate of manned space exploration, Heiser serves on the Steering Committee of the Mars Society. His publications include two books; The Office of the Ministry in N. Hunnius' Epitome Credendorum (1996) and A Shining City on a Higher Hill: Christianity and the Next New World (2006), as well as dozens of journal articles and book reviews.

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Islam and Democracy: The theory - and the practice...

ALGERIA: Political killings, Censorship, Harassment & Intimidation

BAHRAIN: Executions, Abuses of detainees & Censorship

EGYPT: Censorship, Limited Judicial Independence & Police Tortures

IRAN: Torture, Repressed Minorities, Discriminated Women, Unfair Trials, Censorship & Executions

LYBIA: Censorship, Killings of Demonstrators & Prisoners

MOROCCO: Discriminated Women, Abused Prisoners, Migrants & Refugees

OMAN: Discriminated Migrants, Abused Woman & Domestic Workers, Trafficking in Human Beings

IRAQ: Violence against women, Thousands of killed Civilians & Executions

KUWAIT: Torture, Abuse of Migrant Workers & Executions

QUATAR: Violence against Women, Human Trafficking, Torture & ill-Treatment

TUNISIA: Censorship, Limited Judicial Independence, Torture & ill-Treatment

SAUDI ARABIA: Violence against Women, Migrant worker Abuse, Torture, Unfair Trials, Censorship & Executions

SYRIA: Censorship, Torture, Arbitrary Detention, Discrimination of Woman & Minorities

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Stoning, Flogging, Death Penalties & Cruel Judicial Punishments

YEMEN: Executions, Censorship, Political Prisoners & Unfair Trials