Concern Grows over U.N. Terrorism Resolution
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
President Bush and other world leaders on the Security Council have passed a resolution they hope will curb terrorist groups. The resolution calls on member nations to enact laws prohibiting the incitement of terrorism. President Bush said it was an effective means of stopping terrorism in its early stages. Civil liberties groups worry that governments could use incitement laws to repress dissent. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports.
COREY FLINTOFF reporting:
Passage of the resolution came at a highly symbolic Security Council summit in which President Bush, Russian President Vladimir Putin, China's President Hu Jintao and others sat in for their usual representatives. President Bush told his counterparts that the US strongly supports the measure.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: We have a solemn obligation to stop terrorism in its early stages. We have a solemn obligation to defend our citizens against terrorism, to attack terrorist networks and deprive them of any safe haven, to promote an ideology of freedom and tolerance that will refute the dark vision of the terrorists.
FLINTOFF: The measure was proposed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair who's leading a crackdown on radical Islamist groups in his own country following the bombings that killed 52 people in London this summer. Some extremist groups say those bombings were a response to the US and British military presence in Iraq. Blair told the Council he regarded that reasoning as obscene.
Prime Minister TONY BLAIR (Britain): The root cause is not a decision on foreign policy, however contentious. It is a doctrine of fanaticism, and we must unite to uproot it by cooperating on security as people have said, by taking action against those who incite, preach or teach this extremism wherever they are in whichever country.
FLINTOFF: Incitement is a key word in this statement.
Mr. KENNETH ROTH (Executive Director, Human Rights Watch): It's important to make a distinction between incitement of terrorism, that is spoken words that have an immediate impact on violence, as opposed to the mere advocacy of terrorism in which the connection is much more attenuated.
FLINTOFF: Kenneth Roth is the executive director of Human Rights Watch. He says incitement is speech that should be prohibited. But advocacy is free speech, however much you might despise it.
But Britain added another clause which would ban what it called `subversion of educational, cultural or religious institutions.' Roth says that vague language invites repressive governments to censor college professors, to shut down religious institutions and to restrain free speech.
Mr. ROTH: Prevention of subversion is the kind of language that Communist governments used during the Cold War or right-wing authoritarian governments used to suppress all forms of legitimate dissent and political opposition.
FLINTOFF: Roth says that if he could rewrite the measure, he would criminalizes the kind of speech that urges people to go out and commit terrorist acts, but that he'd make sure that the definition of `incitement' was very tight so that there's no leeway for repressive governments. Both the Bush administration, which this week is remembering the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the British government, which is seeking to prevent another round of subway bombings, wanted strong anti-terrorism action from this UN summit. Tony Blair made it particularly clear that he wanted a show of resolve in the face of enemies who take advantage of democratic values.
Prime Min. BLAIR: They play on or divisions. They exploit our hesitations. This is our weakness and they know it.
FLINTOFF: The Security Council passed the resolution against incitement to terrorism unanimously. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, New York.