The Danish Cartoons Row: Re-Drawing the Limits of the Right to Freedom of Expression?
Finnish Yearbook of International Law, Vol. 16, pp. 365-398, 2005
30 Pages Posted: 18 Dec 2008 Last revised: 16 Jul 2010
Date Written: 2006
On 30 September 2005, the Jyllands-Posten, a Danish daily newspaper, published a series of twelve satirical cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. The publication of the cartoons and the ensuing international standoff has generated a passionate debate around the world concerning the limits of free speech, the relationship between the West and Muslim countries, and the place of religion in liberal democracies more generally. Although the row over the cartoons was essentially a political conflict, it raised several important questions of international law. In particular, it has brought into sharp focus the relationship between the right to freedom of expression on the one hand, and the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion on the other hand, as enshrined in various international instruments, above all the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. The purpose of this paper is to give an account of certain legal questions raised by the cartoons crisis. Beginning with a description of the background of the row, the paper surveys the positions adopted by the relevant international actors concerning the limits of the right to freedom of expression. It then examines whether or not the publication of the cartoons falls within the scope of this right, consider whether the images contravene any relevant norms, including any restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, contained in the applicable international human rights instruments, and briefly discusses the alleged prohibition of the defamation of religions under international law.
Keywords: Danish cartoons, freedom of expression, freedom of religion
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