Tag Archive | "United Nations"

UN Affirms Blasphemy as a Human Right


A constant in the unfolding controversy regarding Mideo Cruz is the debate on the right to free speech. The Palayain ang Sining movement has insisted that this isn’t just about Cruz’s work but about the right to free expression. And, ultimately, it is. It doesn’t matter whether you do not find the work aesthetically appealing or even worthy of attention. What is at stake is the right of artists, of human beings, to speak out.

Every conservative with one or two inches of column space has jumped on their rallying cry of “free speech is not absolute.” The claim that Cruz’s piece, which involved a penis on the image of a Caucasian Jesus Christ, was offensive to Catholics (they insist on “Christian” just to bump their numbers up) is being used by the personnel of the CBCP, such as Atty. Jo Imbong, in filing a suit against the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

What is hard to imagine is that something as essential to human rights as free speech even needs defending. It is as if the Catholics have forgotten that, once upon a time, their religion too was in the minority and was persecuted for heresies. The right to free speech is not absolute, yes, but it is abridged only by the risk of actual harm. Offense does not constitute real harm, according to our current understanding of the word. It is quite easy to pretend to be offended and even easier to organize an entire religion around the notion of offense.

This real harm is brought to bear by provable nonsense such as faith healing Masses that are regularly advertised on street banners. This real harm is caused by ex-gay clinics run by fundamentalist Christians. It seems clear that freedom of speech is only limited in the view of conservatives whenever it is convenient for them to curtail it. I wouldn’t be surprised if religious leaders cry persecution should the FDA start regulating these leaders’ therapeutic claims.

It is therefore encouraging that more enlightened bodies such as the Human Rights Council of the United Nations has released General Comment No. 34, which affirms the superiority of the right to free speech over the so-called right against blasphemy. Sorry, Atty. Imbong. General Comment No. 34 was put out by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which the Philippines is a member. As a signatory and ratifier, the Philippines is legally bound by international law to follow GC34. In the comment, it says that, “Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant….”

Members of the ICCPR are required “to guarantee the right to freedom of expression… This right includes… political discourse, commentary on one’s own and on public affairs, canvassing, discussion of human rights, journalism, cultural and artistic expression, teaching, and religious discourse. It may also include commercial advertising.” The comment instructs members to embrace “even expression that may be regarded as deeply offensive….” However, GC34 allows for laws against speech that could incite violence, discrimination, or hostility against a race, nation, or religion.

Certainly, there was no incitement of violence in Cruz’s piece against any person. If only the conservative Catholics offended by his work would extend the same courtesy. With death threats against Cruz and members of the CCP board, and threats against the security of the CCP, fundamentalists are keen on using their Constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech to the point of breaking. The fierceness with which they try to defend their sensibilities betrays insecurity, I think. It reveals a sliver of unsureness, that their beliefs aren’t capable of surviving criticism or a bit of reassessment.

With General Comment No. 34, the Philippine government may be compelled to repeal all the repressive and retrograde blasphemy laws we have in our books that the clerico-fascists keep dusting off and pulling out whenever society dares to go against their medieval aspirations.

The right to free speech protects not the pleasing ideas that we can all agree on, but the ones that we find most outrageous and unappealing. GC34 affirms that “Freedom of opinion and freedom of expression are indispensable conditions for the full development of the person. They are essential for any society. They constitute the foundation stone for every free and democratic society.” But the conservative extremists in the Philippines seem hellbent on eschewing democracy and liberty in favor of their own mangled notion of freedom.

It is not just the rights of Cruz and the CCP that the Church aims to restrict. It is the right of each and every one of us to hear what Cruz and what every other artist, every other person, has to say. And if what we hear is offensive, then we get to decide that, not the Church and certainly not someone who needs to preface every statement with “I’m a Thomasian.”

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Image from new.exchristian.net

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Vatican celebrates 30th AIDS anniversary with more bigotry


Did the Pope’s 2010 statement about condom use in exceptional cases show that he’s changed his mind about them? Is the CBCP defying the Vatican by denouncing the Reproductive Health Bill in spite of the Pope’s pronouncement? Between the CBCP and the Vatican, which old boys club is more bigoted? These questions are answered once and for all by the Vatican’s recent efforts at the 2011 High Level Meeting on AIDS.

But first, some background.

In June 1981, the AIDS epidemic was formally recognized in the US. Since then, medical professionals from all over the world have failed in their search for a cure. Prevention, they discovered, is our best bet.

And out of all prevention technologies invented so far, none have proven more effective than the condom. Medical authorities, including the UNAIDS, UNFPA, and WHO, agree: “the male latex condom is the single, most efficient, available technology to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.”

But to the Pope, effectiveness alone is not enough. To him, contraception is always evil and should always be banned — even if it saves lives. And of the innumerable lives lost to AIDS, most have been those of Africans. Though they’re only 14.7% of the world’s population, Africa is inhabited by more than 88% of people living with HIV. In 2007, Africa had 92% of all AIDS deaths.

Which makes the Pope’s statements in a 2009 visit to Africa all the more disgusting. He said that “HIV/Aids is a tragedy that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem.”

To the Pope’s credit, he’s only being consistent. From the start, the Vatican has been lobbying to ban reproductive health programs all over the world, with no sign that they’ll ever change their position.

Then in late 2010, Pope Benedict XVI gave an interview to a German journalist for a book, Light of the World, an appropriate title because it gave a glimmer of hope. Catholics all over the world celebrated the Pope’s statements. “Finally!” they thought, “the Pope has changed his mind about contraception!” UNAIDS even made a press statement welcoming the Pope’s support for HIV prevention.

But most hopes were dashed when the Vatican clarified the Pope’s views, stating that his views on contraception have not shifted. I say “most” because many Catholics still cling to the possibility that the Pope’s statements mean more than they do, that there’s still a chance for change. Even now, some pro-RH Catholics argue that the CBCP is defying the Pope when it continues to denounce contraception. It’s happened more than once that I had to point someone toward the Vatican’s clarification.

If the Vatican’s words aren’t enough proof, their recent actions should be. Yesterday, 30 years into the AIDS epidemic, the 2011 High Level Meeting on AIDS started, serving as another opportunity for the world to “come together to review progress and chart the future course of the global AIDS response.” For the Vatican, it’s another opportunity to take a stand against reproductive health, medical progress, and women’s rights.

When it comes to choosing solutions, the standard for most members is effectiveness in the real world; for the Vatican, it’s adherence to instructions from Heaven. Here are just some of the suggestions made by the Pope’s “all-male team”:

  • stripping all references to sexual and reproductive health and rights from the meeting’s declaration
  • gutting all mentions of education and prevention other than marriage and fidelity
  • insisting that “families” be replaced with “the family”, as though that monolith even exists or that it provides some kind of magic shield against HIV
  • deleting all mention of “female-controlled prevention methods
  • deleting the following sentence: “… by ensuring that women and girls can exercise their right to have control over, and decide freely and responsibly on, matters related to their sexuality in order to increase their ability to protect themselves from HIV infection, including their sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”

We’ll find out in a few days whether these suggestions are integrated into the meeting’s declaration. But I believe it’s not too early to come to the following conclusion:

The Pope, with his bigoted bishops representing the Vatican, are an enemy of progress, not only in dealing with HIV and AIDS, but in promoting reproductive health, informed choice, and women’s rights.

I hope the Vatican’s actions help Filipino Catholics realize that the CBCP is not alone in their bigotry. The CBCP has no mind (of its own). All of their statements and actions are dictated by the Vatican. “You will know them by their fruit.

And I hope the UN ignores the Vatican’s representatives and realizes that inviting them is ultimately counterproductive. On second thought, maybe the Vatican’s objections can serve as useful indications: If the Pope protests, you’re probably onto something good.

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What is the Extent of Religious Tolerance?


Religious tolerance: a string of words that has been thrown around for centuries, used and abused to justify the continuous subscription to supposed higher powers and the entire van of crazy that comes along with it. My interest in this subject stems from recent news of the U.N. General Assembly re-affirming a resolution condemning religious defamation last December 21, 2010, for the sixth year in a row now, despite dwindling support. I’ve unsuccessfully scoured the internet for a copy of the resolution, but I did find the resolution that was adopted in March 2009. Although the revised 2010 resolution presents notable differences, the general gist of the resolution still holds the same. A summary regarding the recent convention can be read here.

Sponsored by the Organization of the Islamic Conference in response to incidents such as artists drawing Mohammed and activists burning copies of the Qur’an, the resolution can be used to justify the implementation of so-called “blasphemy laws” or laws which criminalize activities deemed “offensive” by a religion. The OIC rationalizes this by alleging that believers of Islam have fallen victim to racial profiling and expresses “deep concern… that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism.”

I do condemn hate speech (and more so, hate crimes) as much as the next guy hates the Ku Klux Klan, however, banning and criminalizing them is an all-together different story because it impedes an individual’s right to freedom of speech. Eileen Donahoe, US ambassador, explains, “We cannot agree that prohibiting speech is the way to promote tolerance, because we continue to see the ‘defamation of religions’ concept used to justify censorship, criminalization, and in some cases, violent assaults and deaths of political, racial and religious minorities around the world.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to argue that lynching fundamentalists should be legalized. However, I’m here to examine the extent of religious tolerance people are entitled to, and whether or not this entitlement is well-deserved. In other words, is religion that important to be protected at the expense of freedom of speech?

A common assumption most people (including religious moderates and atheists) live by is religion should be treated with utmost respect and reverence. Religion is not open to scrutiny and the slightest offense against it is met with fervent agitation at the least. This is exactly the mindset that the OIC and various other religious groups exploited in gaining favor for the resolution. It is also this mindset that would willingly sacrifice the values of freedom of speech and freethinking for the sake of the preservation of a religion’s undeserved infallibility.

An interesting case to examine would be that of James Nixon, a twelve-year-old public school student back in 2004, who won the right in court to go to school in a shirt that said, “Homosexuality is a sin. Islam is a lie. Abortion is murder. Some issues are just black and white.” The ruling was based on the principle of “freedom of religion”. Now, while I would have reluctantly conceded to the ruling had it been based on the principle of freedom of speech, there is something that simply doesn’t sit well with me because if we were to take the principle of ‘religious defamation’ seriously, then the ruling is flawed because someone of the Islam faith could have taken offense from the shirt’s message as well. However, a gay man would practically have nothing against this case. I think the problem with protecting religion is that it’s virtually impossible to do so without offending someone else’s religion. When the state propagates a principle such as this, it is not only contradictory, it also unconstitutional because we are stifling free speech.

What I’m trying to get across is simple: all religious tolerance really means is, “accepting or permitting others’ religious beliefs and practices which disagree with one’s own.” (Wikipedia, 2011) Basically, all this really means is that your boss can’t fire you because of your beliefs and I can’t refuse to sit beside you in an airplane, but I can disagree with you and I am free to do whatever I want even if it contradicts what you believe in and even if (and especially when it) offends you. Religious tolerance does not also legally entail “religious privileges” such as Saturdays or Sundays off. To illustrate, I found this interesting response in a thread on Yahoo! Answers,

“McDonald’s has the right to schedule you on Sundays. I don’t know of any place left that still has enforced Blue Laws. Think about how many people work on Sundays… retail employees, restaurants, anything in the entertainment industry (movies, theme parks, casinos, etc.), gas stations, athletes and so on. It’s obviously not illegal to schedule people on Sundays.

You have the right to take Sundays off. (It’s called “quitting your job”.)

If you decline to work on Sundays, McDonalds can terminate you. Realistically they can fire you for whatever reason they want, but refusing to work the required schedule is more than enough reason.

If your church and youth group activities are that important to you, you need to look for alternative employment that doesn’t ask you to work on Sundays.”

Contrary to what we’ve been taught in Catholic school, responsible freedom (and how we ought not to hurt anyone with we say and do) is, excuse the french, bullshit, especially when it stifles free speech and more so when it puts the lives of those who dare pierce the veil of religious infallibility in danger, like say, when teachers are in danger of being mobbed and lynched because they named a teddy bear Muhammad.

The good news, at least, is that support for the resolution has been steadily declining over the years, with the resolution passing with merely 79 votes to 67 (with 40 abstentions), a significantly low margin of difference of 12-votes compared to previous years. These figures were preceded by a 57-vote margin in 2006 and 2007 that dropped to 33 in 2008 and to 19 in 2009; impressive for the first decade of the century. And it is with this that I end this entry with a simple greeting: Happy 2011 and I hope the rest of the century folds out quite nicely for you!

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A Call to Restore Sexual Orientation in UN Resolution against Extrajudicial Executions


On November 2010, the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly voted to remove a reference to sexual orientation from a key resolution condemning extrajudicial killings. For the past ten years, the Resolution on Extrajudicial, Summary, and Arbitrary Executions has urged states to “to investigate promptly and thoroughly… all killings committed for any discriminatory reason, including sexual orientation. The amendment removing the reference to sexual orientation was adopted with79 votes in favor, 70 against, 17 abstentions and 26 absent. The Philippines was among the seventeen states that abstained.

Today, December 21, 2010, the UN General Assembly will vote on a motion to restore “sexual orientation” in the text of the resolution. The following is a letter from the Filipino Freethinkers urging the Philippine government to uphold the rights of Filipino lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender (LGBTs) by voting to restore the reference to sexual orientation.

21 December 2010

H.E. President BENIGNO C. AQUINO III

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES

HON. ALBERTO G. ROMULO

Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs

H.E. (Mr.) Libran N. Cabactulan

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines to the United Nations

556 5th Avenue

New York, NY

Dear Sirs,

We, the members of the Filipino Freethinkers, are writing to you as allies of the Filipino lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and advocates of equal rights for LGBTs. We urge you to vote for restoration of the category sexual orientation in the Resolution on Extrajudicial Summary, and Arbitrary Executions.

In the Philippines and all over the world, LGBTs continue to be victims of abuse and extrajudicial killing. In 2010 alone, the non-government organization Rainbow Rights Project, Inc. (R-Rights) reported 11 documented cases of local killings based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. Given the lack of policies against discrimination and hate crimes, it is highly probable that many more cases go undocumented and unnoticed. Overseas Filipino workers are also vulnerable to torture and killing based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, especially in countries where consensual same-sex behaviour is deemed criminal. By abstaining from the previous vote on the amendment to the resolution, the Philippine government has turned a blind eye to the realities faced by Filipino LGBTs.

All too often, these grave violations of human rights are motivated by an irrational hatred of sexual minorities, or committed in the name of religious fundamentalism.  As advocates of reason, science, and secularism, we condemn these forms of human rights violations, and we urge you to do the same. We believe that hate crimes and killings on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity—whether or not they are based on religious dogma—should have no place in a state that has committed to promote, uphold, and protect human rights for all. We implore you to vote to restore the reference to sexual orientation in the text of the resolution on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary killings.

Sincerely,

Filipino Freethinkers

www.filipinofreethinkers.org

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