Censorship at the U.N.

Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center and the author of “While Europe Slept” and “Surrender.” His book "The Victims' Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind" is just out from Broadside / Harper Collins.


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The United Nations never ceases to impress.  As noted here recently, Thor Halvorssen of the Human Rights Foundation appeared before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 28. Halvorssen offered a few frank, bracing words about the state of human rights in Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, and expressly argued that Chavez’s government, which is seeking a seat on the council, has no right to such a seat.  For good measure, Halvorssen pointed out how disgraceful it is that another tyrannical Latin American government, that of Cuba, currently sits on the council.

The result, as also noted here, was an explosion of righteous indignation on the part of some of the council’s least worthy members – China, Russia, and, especially, Cuba, whose representative was so quick to rise to his feet in outrage that he knocked his chair over.  The message sent out by him, and by his Chinese and Russian friends, in response to Halvorssen’s dose of truth-telling was clear: it’s one thing to engage in vague, pretty talk about human rights, but it’s another thing to point fingers and name names.

Two days later, interestingly enough, the very same message was communicated to a group of teenage girls from Norway at the U.N. Headquarters in New York – or, at least, so it would appear from the available evidence.  Here’s the story.  The Norwegian Girls’ Choir was in New York as part of a music festival produced by something called the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation, which, according to an article that appeared in the New York Times on June 30,has promoted cultural exchanges between American and international arts groups since its founding in 1973. This year the group, which often focuses on youth initiatives, has produced the inaugural Rhythms of One World festival, a series of choral performances featuring adult and children’s choirs from Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Luxembourg, Canada, Australia, Norway and the United States.”

As the Times reported, “The choirs performed individually at various halls in the city this week, and joined forces for an event on Thursday evening at Avery Fisher Hall, which celebrated the signing of the United Nations Charter in 1945.”  The Times described each act in some detail, and singled out the girls’ choir as a “highlight of the evening,” saying that they “sang with nuance and elegant dynamic contrast.”  The Times article closed by noting that the festival would conclude that evening, Saturday, June 30, “with a performance at the United Nations General Assembly Hall.”

So it was that on Saturday afternoon, the girls’ choir was rehearsing lighting cues in the General Assembly hall.  That’s when the trouble started.  The girls were doing a piece by composer Maya Ratkje entitled “Ro-Uro,” which can be translated as “Peace-Unrest.”  It’s an archetypal Norwegian statement about the beauty of peace and the evil of war.  (You can see a video of a 2007 performance of it here.)  The work, which lasts just under ten minutes, alternates throughout between harmony and discord; the girls are almost constantly on the move, one moment dancing happily arm-in-arm and making pretty music, the next moment dashing madly across the stage – and around the auditorium – as if in sheer terror, all the while shrieking out harsh dissonances.

It’s exactly the kind of thing you’d think was tailor-made for the U.N.  But there’s one problem.  Toward the end of the piece, the girls shout out the names of famous people who have abused their power, such as Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Quisling, Castro, and Mugabe.

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  • Ken

    The double-standard on "free" speech strikes again at the UN!! What a group of hypocrites!!

  • int'l_aid_worker

    This is politics, not denying free speech. How can an organization be effective in its work of uniting nations, especially in helping people if they risk offending the leaders of countries they are trying to work with! The UN is the chiefest in "political correctness".

    • Ted G

      Regardless of wether they deserved it or not? That is not politics that is cowardice and appeasement.

      You have just reinforced my opinion of politicians and their ilk of being liar's and deceivers.
      If this is what we get from the UN please tell me why it deserves to exist.

      BTW we should not be trying to work with leaders that are bereft of any honor at all!

    • poppakap

      Are you serious? As if politics doesn't deny free speech? How naive are you? Politics is at the very root of denying people free speech worldwide.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    Truth spoken at the UN is not to be tollerated, not even that of innocents, espescially by innocent
    young girls from Norway. Probably just as well that it was changed, UN troops and fighter jets
    will not help tourism in Norway, it would ruin their Summer. The UN should be burned to the ground
    and the ashes sent into outer space, what a sinkhole of human waste…………………….William

  • mrbean

    Did you know that in China, that you can be accused oof eing an enemy of the state, tried and convicted, sentenced to death, taken out at dawn and shot in the back of the head, and your family billed for the bullet. Your body is the property of the state and your organs are harvested for sale as available organ transplants, and the carcass that is left may or may not be sent to your family for burial.

  • Looking4Sanity

    "Who's to judge, when the Judge himself is dragged before the bar?"

    Captain Ahab, Moby Dick

    • poppakap

      Sanity, perhaps you'd be kind enough to elaborate on your quote. I am somewhat confident my assumption on your meaning is correct, but please explain yourself if for no reason other than potentially giving cover to anarchists.

      • Looking4Sanity

        Certainly. The point of the quote was that when those who are in power are corrupt, there can be no Justice. Furthermore, when those in power are corrupt, who can call them to task? As in the case of these UN goons, they really aren't accountable to anyone…much like the judges in Ahab's day.

    • guest

      Are you referring to Eric Holder and Obamagate?

      • Looking4Sanity

        That quote works very well in that scenario, don't you think?

  • Ghostwriter

    In many ways,I agree with the song. Castro,Mugabe,and Stalin deserve to be labeled tyrants. The fact that someone at the U.N. thought differently should give the people of Norway some pause. I hope they perform this song in America,with a translation of the original song in English but with the list of dictators included. The composer would find that,at least here,her song would find a sympathetic audience.

  • Dead space

    If someone insulted USA at the United Nations, would a U.S. representative get so angry that he’d knock his chair down from jumping up so fast?