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WAN congress condemns UN Human Rights Council's stance on "protecting religious sensibilities"

(WAN/IFEX) - The following is a 3 June 2008 WAN press release:

World's Press Criticises UN Human Rights Council

Göteborg, Sweden, 3 June 2008 - The World Association of Newspapers and World Editors Forum has condemned the UN Human Rights Council's repeated efforts to undermine freedom of expression in the name of protecting religious sensibilities.

"WAN reminds the UN that the Council's proper role is to defend freedom of expression and not to support the censorship of opinion at the request of autocracies," the WAN Board said in a resolution issued during the World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum, the global meetings of the world's press being held in Göteborg, Sweden.

WAN and WEF issued six other resolutions to:

- Condemn widespread press freedom violations during the recent presidential elections in Zimbabwe ( read the full resolution at http://www.wan-press.org/article17295.html );

- Invite newly-elected Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to decisively support and promote freedom of the press in Russia ( read the full resolution at http://www.wan-press.org/article17287.html );

- Appeal to African leaders to abolish libel and criminal defamation laws and to promote and implement the highest standards of press freedom at outlined in the Table Mountain Declaration ( read the full resolution at http://www.wan-press.org/article17291.html );

- Call on Chinese authorities to release all imprisoned journalists and cyber-reporters ahead of the upcoming Olympic Games and to honour the press freedom commitments it made in its successful Olympic bid ( read the full resolution at http://www.wan-press.org/article17283.html );

- Condemn the continued imprisonment of fourteen journalists in Eritrea and call for their release ( read the full resolution at http://www.wan-press.org/article17285.html );

- And to express deep concern over the growing tendency of sports organisations to restrict press coverage of their events, both in print and digitally ( read the full resolution at http://www.wan-press.org/article17289.html ).

In the resolution condemning actions by the UN Human Rights Council, WAN cited the Council's approval of an amendment proposed by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference requiring the Council's investigator to "report on instances where the abuse of the right to freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination."

WAN said the amendment "goes against the spirit" of the work of the Special Rapporteur and would require him to investigate abusive expression "rather than focusing on the endemic problem of abusive limits on expression imposed by governments, including many of those on the Council."

"The WAN Board is concerned at what appears to be the emergence of a negative trend against freedom of expression in the UN Human Rights Council," the resolution said. "In March 2007, the Council has already passed a resolution, sponsored by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisastion of the Islamic Conference, which opened the door to the restrictions of freedom of expression by governments on the grounds that it might offend religious sensibilities."

The United Nations Human Rights Council, whose stated purpose is to address human rights violations, is the successor to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which was often criticised for the high-profile positions it gave to member states that did not guarantee the human rights of their own citizens. International human rights groups have expressed concerned that the Council may be emulating the practices that discredited the Commission on Human Rights.

The WAN resolution called on the Council President and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon "to protect the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and to ensure that international standards of freedom of expression are fully supported by the UN Human Rights Council and not undermined by it." The resolution can be read at http://www.wan-press.org/article17293.html

The Paris-based WAN, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, defends and promotes press freedom and the professional and business interests of newspapers world-wide. Representing 18,000 newspapers, its membership includes 77 national newspaper associations, newspaper companies and individual newspaper executives in 102 countries, 12 news agencies and 11 regional and world-wide press groups.

For further information on the UN resolution on free expression and religion, see:
http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/93200
http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/92106

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