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UN resolution on free expression welcomed

Several draft resolutions were submitted to the twelfth session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) last week, eliciting a variety of reactions from IFEX members, some of whom lauded a welcome focus on freedom of expression.

ARTICLE 19 called the resolution on "Freedom of opinion and expression" a "breakthrough" for its emphasis on freedom of expression, the role of the media in combating racism and, most significantly, for omitting any reference to defamation of religion. ARTICLE 19 cites a history of resolutions at the United Nations that have argued that religion should not be criticised.

However, ARTICLE 19 sees weaknesses in the draft. First, the resolution talks about the rise of "negative racial and religious stereotyping." ARTICLE 19 says the implication is that belief systems should be protected, instead of believers. Second, the draft mentions HRC Resolution 7/36, which weakens the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression as it asks that the Rapporteur "report on instances in which the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination." This statement goes against freedom of expression and could be misinterpreted, according to ARTICLE 19.

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) lauded the resolution's call for the protection of journalists during armed conflicts.

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) also acknowledged the work done by Egypt and the U.S. to create the resolution on free expression that battles discrimination and incitement of hatred and violence and omits terms like "defamation of religion," which are at times used by governments to discriminate against minorities.

In a separate resolution presented to the HRC on "Promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms through a better understanding of traditional values of humankind", CIHRS disagrees with the notion of "traditional values" being used to determine human rights norms. CIHRS says it is an attack on the human rights standards that the UN is supposed to protect. "Such a concept has been used in the Arab region to justify treating women as second class citizens, female genital mutilation, honour crimes, child marriage and other practices that clearly contradict international human rights standards." CIHRS questions, "Does this resolution now mean that such practices are acceptable under international law?"

MADA and CIHRS both expressed disappointment that a third resolution on the "Situation of Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem" was deferred until March. CIHRS says the resolution was intended to uphold the findings of a UN fact-finding mission for violations committed during the recent conflict in Gaza, also referred to as the Goldstone report.

According to MADA, recommendations in the Goldstone report would enable an investigation of four journalists killed by Israeli gunfire during the conflict, of other journalists wounded during the fighting, and of several media organisations that were bombed.

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