University

Conflicts and freedom of expression, position of the UNIGE

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The terrorist attack on Israel on 7 October 2023, the cycle of violence it triggered and the intensive bombing of the Gaza Strip have provoked horrified reactions around the world. Clear violations of international humanitarian law are multiplying at an alarming rate. They also characterise many of the crises faced by the international community, from Iran to Nagorno-Karabakh, from Ukraine to Afghanistan and the Middle East. We call for an immediate cessation of these violations and firmly condemn them.

The current crisis unfolding in the Middle East and the human tragedies unfolding there are the cause of legitimate indignation, which is shared within our community. Beyond the necessary political analysis, which questions the historical, economic and societal foundations of this situation, there are individual tragedies and human suffering that cannot be denied or relativised.

In this particular moment, the University must reaffirm the importance of freedom of expression and the right of all to debate, present arguments, and embrace disagreements. This is a necessary condition for academic thought, and more broadly for the proper functioning of our democracies. In the face of tensions and the hardening of positions expressed, this freedom must be framed by clear principles that protect it: rejection of all forms of incitement to violence, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and violations of our Code of ethics and professional conduct.

Within the limits set out above, the University does not impose any particular interpretation or political line to which events, whatever their topic, are subject. It creates the conditions for open and respectful debate. Many public events take place within our walls, but the fact that the University hosts them in no way implies an endorsement of their conclusions. Such an interpretation would be in complete contradiction with its missions and values and with the academic freedom enjoyed by its members.

While it welcomes the voices of the community and associations - an exhibition calling for the release of hostages held by Hamas or an exhibition on the history of the conflict from a Palestinian perspective - the University also makes its own academic contribution. Aware of its role as a "peace-builder" like all universities around the world, it strives to grasp, analyse and understand the many dimensions of international relations and promotes critical and humanist thinking. It does so through events it brings to the community, for example as part of the Human Rights Week, and through the expertise provided by the members of its community.

All questions should be allowed to be raised at the University, particularly – possibly most significantly – when they touch upon complex situations that require diverse perspectives. This freedom leads to disagreements and discomfort that must be accepted. However, the form taken by events or statements, as well as the context in which they occur, must take into account of the sensitivities of the members of the university community, protecting their right to a healthy work and study environment in which they can operate without fear or threat. Victims or witnesses of acts or statements contrary to these principles can contact the Respect Unit. Free psychological consultations and health advice are also available to students affected by this conflict, through the Student Health Service.

There is a narrow path between freedom of expression and the respect due to all. Projects must be evaluated, and sometimes re-evaluated, in the light of the unrest they cause and the intentional or unintentional damage they do to the cohesion of the university community, while resisting the deceptive comfort of censorship or self-censorship. Our ability to fulfil our missions and help understanding the world depends on it.

December 7, 2023
  University