Ban Ki-Moon was responding to questions about the scenes of violence and unrest that have occurred in reaction to the YouTube video the Innocence of Muslims
. The UN's transcript
of Wednesday's press conference reports he said:
Freedoms of expression should be and must be guaranteed and protected, when they are used for common justice, common purpose. When some people use this freedom of expression to provoke or humiliate some others' values and beliefs, then this cannot be protected in such a way. My position is that freedom of expression, while it is a fundamental right and privilege, should not be abused by such people, by such a disgraceful and shameful act.
Yet Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
The right is expressed unequivocally. There is nothing in the Declaration about the right to freedom of expression being restricted to "common justice, common purpose". Nor is there anything in the assertion about freedom of expression being a "privilege".
Should Ban Ki-Moon's perception of the limits of freedom of expression be accepted, it is difficult to see how any criticism that anyone else objected to on any ground whatsoever could be upheld as a right. Such a limitation on freedom of expression would be effectively a licence for the powerful to enjoy freedom of expression exclusively. It would effectively make it illegal to hold the rich, powerful and influential to account. It would ensure their actions were above criticism. It would protect their ideologies from all dissent.
The notion that a man who does not accept the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, specifically Article 19, should hold the post of Secretary-General is surreal. If Mr Moon's view of freedom of expression were to be widely adopted, it would set back the cause of human rights by more than half a century.