28 February 2006

Joint Statement on Rights to Freedom of Expression, Peaceful Protest

NEW YORK, 27 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of a joint statement by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, the First Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister of Qatar, the Foreign Minister of Spain and Foreign Minister of Turkey, issued in Doha, Qatar, on 25 February.

Earlier this month the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization of the Islamic Conference took the unprecedented step of issuing a joint statement appealing for restraint and calm after the publication of insulting caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, considered blasphemous by Muslims and deeply offensive by many others, as well as the reactions thereto.

All of us now join to renew our call for restraint, and for an immediate end to the present atmosphere, which threatens to sow deep discord between communities, societies and countries.  We deeply regret the offence given by the caricatures, as well as the loss of life and damage to property in several countries.

We reaffirm the universal right to freedom of expression.  We appeal to everyone to exercise that right responsibly, and not to use it as a pretext for incitement to hatred, or insult to the deeply held belief of any community.

We also reaffirm the right to peaceful protest, especially where deep hurt has been caused, and we acknowledge that Muslims do indeed feel deep hurt over the caricatures.  We applaud that vast majority of the protesters and demonstrators throughout the world, who chose to express their indignation in an orderly and peaceful manner.

We urge everyone to resist provocation, overreaction and violence, and turn to dialogue.  Without dialogue, we cannot hope to appeal to reason, to heal resentment or overcome mistrust.

As we meet today in Qatar, we appeal earnestly to all leaders, religious and secular, to use their influence to promote the universal values and beliefs that we all share.  As individuals, and as representatives of our respective organizations and countries, we fully support universal human rights, and the strict application of relevant laws.  We believe all rights should be exercised responsibly.  Neither media publications, nor places of worship, should be used for incitement, or to spread hatred.

The international society we all want to live in is a tolerant one, which recognises both rights and responsibilities.  The hallmark of every tolerant society -- and indeed of every tolerant person -- is respect for the right of all people to freedom of worship and of opinion and expression, and appreciation of diversity as an asset, not a threat.

We look to the high-level group of the Alliance of Civilizations, which meets here in Qatar tomorrow, to suggest ways of encouraging broader and deeper mutual respect and understanding between people of different belief, culture or tradition.

We intend, as a group, to follow up this joint statement, and commit ourselves to formulate a joint strategy and agreed measures that will contribute to overcome the current crisis, to prevent its recurrence, and to promote tolerance and mutual respect between all religions and communities, in Europe and elsewhere.

The group has requested the United Nations Secretary General to bring this document to the attention of the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council, and the European Union.

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