GENEVA (14 September 2012) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Friday urged religious and political leaders to do their utmost to restore calm in the wake of the “malicious and provocative” anti-Islam film that has led to street protests in some 15 or more countries across the world. She condemned the murders of US diplomats and Libyan embassy employees in Benghazi and the violence that has taken place there and elsewhere.
“The film is malicious and deliberately provocative and portrays a disgracefully distorted image of Muslims,” Pillay said. “I fully understand why people wish to protest strongly against it, and it is their right to do so peacefully. However, I utterly condemn the killings in Benghazi, and other violent and destructive reactions to the film, and urge religious and political leaders to make a major effort to restore calm. I welcome the fact that the Libyan Government has vowed to bring those responsible to justice.”
Noting that the film was the latest in a string of deliberately provocative acts or products targeting particular religions and their followers – several of which have led to similar violent reactions and killings -- Pillay said that sometimes the best way to deal with such provocations was to ignore them. “Deliberate and obnoxious acts of this type should be deprived of the oxygen of publicity,” she said.
“As the Secretary-General has stated, the fault line is not between Muslim and non-Muslim societies,” she added, “but between a small number of extremists on different sides, with a vested interest in stirring hostility and conflict.”
Recalling the murder of more than 20 people (including seven UN staff) in Afghanistan in April 2011, after another deeply provocative act by a pastor in Florida, Pillay said “It is deeply tragic and reprehensible that people who have nothing whatsoever to do with these disgraceful stunts should lose their lives to enraged mobs and extremists in countries such as Libya and Afghanistan.”
The UN human rights chief noted that there is a legal framework – in particular Articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – which offers strong protective measures to all forms of expression, while at the same time giving States the possibility to impose restrictions that are provided by law and which are necessary for the respect of the rights and reputations of others.
In March 2011, the Human Rights Council passed a unanimous resolution (Res 16/18) that provides a comprehensive road map for a coordinated national and international effort to ensure that certain rights and freedoms are not misused to undermine other rights and freedoms. In addition, over the years, a number of human rights mechanisms have contributed to efforts to clarify where the lines should be drawn between free speech and hate speech. Since October 2008, the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been spearheading a global effort to promote a legal framework based on international human rights standards to discuss freedom of expression and the need to enforce the prohibition of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred.