Header image for news printout

Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein

Commemoration at Palais des Nations, Geneva, for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris

9 January 2015

What fell upon Paris two mornings ago was an awful crime, and we remember all the victims today, and pray for, and mourn with, their families this morning. Their pain is our pain.

The United Nations is a global family; its guiding document is the Charter, and where human rights are concerned, the Universal Declaration. The right to the freedom of expression has always been considered as that human right which best answers to the wickedness brought on by tyranny and racism, of the sort that contributed greatly to the Second World War. That right, the freedom of expression, must therefore be argued for vigorously, most especially by this organization: by me, by us.

We need a moment of calm now. We do not need retaliation. Neither Islam nor multiculturalism in Europe is to blame for the bloody attack two mornings ago, as some right-wing political leaders have already begun to say.

As a Muslim, many of the cartoons -- which are being reproduced everywhere today -- are as offensive to me as they are to every Muslim here in this building, and every Muslim around the world, all 1.6 billion or so of us. But for us, the answer is of course, not to murder, or maim, hurt or slight, anyone – that, especially the killing or the wounding would be abominable – we must instead exercise the same right practiced so skillfully by the late editors, writers and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo; the right to write, to speak and to draw freely – and we must do so with just as much passion and determination as the victims to this terrible attack themselves demonstrated time and again.

We must speak of the need to love more, to care more, be compassionate more and kind, to include more and be included more, and if we are to derive anything from the vicious murders that took the lives of the people we mourn today – it is that lesson.

Much violence will, likely, alas, still come, and it will come quickly if we don’t think clearly and humanely now, and act in a way that preserves the right of everyone to find their space in this world, protected by a right to express freely what they feel. And there is little time to be lost. On behalf of OHCHR, I offer our condolences to the Government and People of the French Republic through Ambassador Nicolas Niemtchinow who is present with us today. You have our deepest sympathies, Sir.