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The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) 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.

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 Organisation 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 and fully supported by the UN Human Rights Council and not undermined by it.” The resolution can be read here.

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.

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