I read with great interest Eugene’s post below on the Obama administration, free speech, and human rights. As it happens, I’m trying to finish up a manuscript on the UN and “values” at this very moment, and so alas don’t have time to comment more than a few paragraphs about this. Here are a couple of observations that I don’t propose to defend here; I throw them out unsupported, and I’ll try to go back and add something else later. Many of them are about the intellectual community of international law, which I take as relevant here in part because Eugene is trying to sort out what various international law experts say is or is not the import of the free speech drafts in the UN Human Rights Council; I think it matters to have a sense, even if it’s just my personal and idiosyncratic one, of the baseline of international law experts. (I don’t promise that I have re-read this closely despite some aggressive characterizations here; I’m simply out of time.)
This whole process of “engagement” on an issue like free speech by the US at the HRC or anywhere else in the international system is a mistake from the beginning. Among the many reasons is, first, that a process like that of the HRC is designed to lead to consensus, which in practice will mean some kind of compromise. But the whole point of freedom of speech under the First Amendment is that it is not open to compromise, and certainly not in the sense of elaborating standards from the outside for a sovereign people who govern themselves under a constitution.
Even to “engage” in the process, as a consequence, leads to tears no matter where it goes. A compromise on the issue will inevitably mean that the [...]