HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL CONTINUES INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE ON FREEDOM OF OPINION AND EXPRESSION AND ON ARBITRARY EXECUTIONS
20 June 2012
The Human Rights Council this morning continued with its clustered interactive dialogue with Frank La Rue, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the freedom of opinion and expression, and Christof Heyns, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
In the interactive dialogue, States said that a democratic society could not function if the right to freedom of opinion and expression was not adequately secured. Delegations recognized the importance of promoting and protecting the freedom of opinion and expression, and expressed concern about the increase in the number of attacks against journalists around the globe, whether in conflict situations or not, and including bloggers. Countries wanted to know more about measures that could be taken to ensure the protection of journalists as well as on how to fight against impunity of attacks against them. Speakers noted that the present challenge to the protection of journalists was the insufficient implementation of existing normative frameworks at the national and international level.
Some speakers said that bloggers and social media could not be equated with journalists since they were not committed to professional ethics and lacked clear responsibilities and specific legal regulation. One speaker noted that online journalism was an emerging area and many States did not have specific rules relating to the Internet based journalist, and asked the Special Rapporteur to share specific examples of good practices to ensure the protection of citizens operating online. A number of speakers said that freedom of expression online should receive the same protection as that offline, while others disagreed.
Concerning the report on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, delegations asked whether any research had been planned on the impact of the use of drones. With regards to extrajudicial executions, a speaker asked whether any research had been planned on the impact of the use of drones and other forms and means of selective assassinations. One speaker said that the challenge was in ensuring that international standards for protection were fully implemented and reflected in national framework.
Speaking in the interactive dialogue were Chile, Algeria, Germany, Switzerland, Pakistan on behalf of the Non Aligned Movement, New Zealand, Colombia, Maldives, Indonesia, Italy, Qatar, Poland, United Kingdom, Ecuador, Tunisia, Guatemala, Spain, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, Honduras, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Mexico, Cuba, Slovenia, Slovakia, Netherlands, Finland, France, Norway, Greece, Iraq, Ireland, Thailand, Uruguay, Russian Federation, Costa Rica, Brazil, Morocco, Syria, Bangladesh, Romania, Peru and Botswana.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, took the floor as did the following non-governmental organizations: Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, American Civil Liberties Union, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and the Colombian Commission of Jurists.
The Council will resume its work this afternoon at 3 p.m. to conclude its clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of opinion and expression, and on summary executions, after which it will start a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteurs on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.
Clustered Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and Summary or Arbitrary Executions
Chile noted the view that important changes on existing international norms were not necessary; the main challenge was the application of the existing framework. Mr. Heyns had noted that protection was related to fundamental rights and constituted a central element of democracy linked to the freedom of expression. A culture of impunity might promote further acts of violence, thus governments should strengthen their response through police and judicial systems. Mr. La Rue also referred to the responsibilities of journalist associations themselves to develop codes of ethics. Chile asked how to take into account journalists’ responsibility to adhere to standards amidst the proliferation of bloggers and online publishing.
Algeria said that Algeria had adapted a law to provide the conditions necessary for journalists to perform their work. Concerning Mr. La Rue’s report and the issue of defamation, Algeria was interested in his opinion concerning the way of achieving equilibrium between reducing defamation prosecutions against journalists and the rights of the victims of defamation. Algeria noted the broad definition Mr. Heyns employed to qualify “journalists”. Algeria was surprised by the lack of accuracy of his report, in which Algeria had been included in a list of the most dangerous countries for journalists. Those who had lost their lives in the 1990s had suffered for their efforts to denounce the atrocities of armed terrorists.
Germany said that censorship and harassment of journalists were unacceptable. The fight for media freedom, the risk journalists took in order to better inform the public, and the use of new technologies all provided particular challenges. Germany encouraged the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression to contribute and enhance greater coordination, collaboration and adoption of joint strategies between the United Nations agencies and initiatives, such as the joint plan of action for the protection of journalists, and inquired about efforts for further coordination.
Switzerland saluted the initiative of the two Special Rapporteurs to deal with the security of journalists in their reports which represented a significant contribution to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression. Switzerland strongly regretted the harassment, repression and killing of journalists by some Governments and expressed its support for the proposal to encourage States to draft a declaration on the security of journalists. Switzerland asked the two Special Rapporteurs how States could promote the role and independence of journalists among the general public and how their mandates could contribute to the clarification of legal aspects related to the use of drones.
Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Non Aligned Movement, said that the protection of journalists was an extremely important issue and agreed with Mr. La Rue that States had the primary responsibility for their protection and not permitting impunity. Protection of those who published online equal to the protection accorded to print and broadcast journalists was not a black and white issue; print and broadcast journalists were usually associated with news organizations that had a system of checks and balances to verify their professionalism. On the other hand, anyone could start a blog and put whatever they liked on it without having to submit to any system of accountability or verification, said the Non-Aligned Movement, and asked Mr. La Rue how this issue could be addressed.
New Zealand commended the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression for the breadth of activities carried out in the fulfilment of his mandate and noted, in relation to attacks on journalists, that the rights of members of society to seek and receive information were protected by international law. Citizen journalists and bloggers could play an important role in documenting and disseminating information. New Zealand noted that online journalism was an emerging area and many States did not have specific rules relating to the Internet based journalist, and asked the Special Rapporteur to share specific examples of good practices to ensure the protection of citizens operating online.
Colombia said that Colombia continued to work with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the implementation of concrete actions to protect journalists. It did not share the opinion that the phenomenon was continuing and that it had not been dealt with firmly enough. Colombia admitted to facing challenges in the fight against impunity but that did not mean progress had not been made.
Maldives said that a democratic society could not function if the right to freedom of opinion and expression was not adequately secured. Freedom of the press had markedly improved in the Maldives in recent years but it was clear that much more had to be done, as demonstrated by the country’s inclusion amongst countries that witnessed an increase in violence against journalists covering demonstrations in 2011. The new administration was doing all it could to ensure journalists were provided with the space and security to do their work ahead of the next general elections.
Indonesia said that in a conducive environment, freedom of expression had found fertile ground in Indonesia and its people were now able to voice, whether individually or collectively, and without any restraint, their opinion on issues in the social, economic, political, cultural and other domains. In a complex society, social media was exposed to manipulation and misuse. It was of paramount important that States continued to nurture pluralism within societies, whilst at the same time preserving the integrity of the State and nation.
Italy deplored attacks and reprisals against journalists, in particular in non-conflict countries. States had the duty not to pass legislation unduly limiting the freedom of expression of journalists. States should guarantee the integrity of journalists and hold fully accountable those responsible for violence against them. Journalists should abide to adequate standards of professionalism. In the context of the current work on a United Nations joint plan of action on the protection of journalists and on impunity, coordinated by UNESCO, Italy asked what the Council could undertake to foster implementation and dissemination.
Qatar hoped that the recommendations and conclusions of the Special Rapporteurs would protect the rights of journalists worldwide, in the context of great violations to the rights of journalists, the multiplicity of parties, and the incapacity of States to prosecute those responsible. Attacks against journalist affected the capacity of societies to receive valuable information. Impunity was one of the main obstacles impeding the safeguarding and protection of journalists, encouraging perpetrators to carry out further attacks. Qatar called for the coordination of international mechanisms to ensure the protection of journalists and fight impunity.
Poland said that the mandate on freedom of opinion and expression contributed to safeguarding all other human rights. The Internet created an opportunity for all citizens of the world to exchange their views freely and to document and disseminate news. Freedom of expression online should receive the same protection as that offline. Poland asked Mr. La Rue about measures the international community could take to prevent some countries from denying professional and untrained journalists the right to express themselves online freely; and encouraged countries which had been reluctant to issue invitations to facilitate the visits of the Special Rapporteur without undue delay.
United Kingdom said that the long list of countries in the report of Mr. La Rue where restriction or violence against journalists occurred was shocking. It was simply wrong that in nine out of ten cases in which journalists were murdered, the perpetrators went free. The United Kingdom fully supported the aim to strengthen the mandate to tackle violence against journalists and the high levels of impunity and asked the Special Rapporteur to comment further on the implementation of this plan. All States should publicly condemn attacks against journalists at the highest political level and asked Mr. La Rue how this recommendation could be implemented.
Ecuador agreed that the problem of lack of protection of journalists was lack of the implementation of existing norms and standards. In 2009 Ecuador became the sixteenth country to ratify the Convention against Enforced Disappearances. Ecuador had since 2003 issued an open and standing invitation for all Special Procedures and believed in having an open and constructive dialogue with mandate holders and members of the United Nations. The monitoring efforts of Special Rapporteurs should take into account the opinion of all stakeholders and not only Governments, and so provide an integral vision of a situation, concluded Ecuador.
Tunisia said that journalism was an essential factor in the democratic life of countries and that the emergence of online journalism had enriched the media landscape, especially in the time of crises. The protection of journalists was among the most important priorities of the reform in Tunisia that had started since the Revolution of 14 January. Tunisia noted that on 4 and 5 May 2012, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, an international conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization had taken place in Tunisia. It was attended by more than 700 participants from 90 countries and had adopted the Carthage Declaration on press freedom and safety of journalists.
Guatemala made reference to its International Commission to Fight Impunity, and asked whether national laws were needed to identify criminal activities against journalists in particular and how a clear distinction could be made between crimes committed against journalists, and acts of delinquency against persons whose profession happened to be journalism.
Spain said that it was a priority to facilitate global access to the Internet, which was also a great way to promote freedom of expression. States were ultimately responsible for access to the right to freedom of opinion and expression and Spain encouraged all to fight any kind of limitations of journalists’ activities around the world, whether on the Internet or otherwise. It was also important to fight against impunity.
Australia said it supported policy work which recognized the unique role that journalists played in the effective functioning of democracies. Australia recently strengthened evidence laws to entrench a presumption that a journalist was not required to identify their source of information. It also said it was interested in the Special Rapporteurs expanding their views regarding justifiable limits to freedom of expression, in particular in regards to defamation and anti-terror laws.
Belgium said any actions legal or illegal which impinged on the work of journalists or led to self-censorship had a negative impact on democracy. Concerning the recommendation that countries should implement legislation for the protection of journalists according to the highest international standards, Belgium asked for specific examples and whether regional legal standards existed; and for the criteria to define the category of “citizen journalist”. Concerning Mr. Heyns’ recommendation for special measures by States where several cases of assassinations of journalists had taken place, did he propose the creation of independent investigation units?
Malaysia reaffirmed the importance of freedom of opinion and expression and noted the focus of the report of the Special Rapporteur on the protection of journalists and media freedom. Malaysia was disappointed that the Special Rapporteur had made references to the recent incident on BERSIH 2, despite the lack of accurate and detailed information. Ever since, Malaysia had annulled three proclamations of emergency, repealed three security acts, and enacted an act on peaceful assembly.
Honduras said that violations against the right to life of journalists infringed on the collective rights of societies to receive information. In Honduras a public debate addressed the issue of impunity. The Ministry of Justice was working on a national plan for the protection of human rights defenders and journalists to guarantee them freedom from threats and intimidation. Honduras stressed the importance of protecting journalists who used the Internet to disseminate information; and asked Mr. La Rue what role could the Council play to address the issue of impunity in different contexts and promote technical cooperation.
Czech Republic said that freedom of opinion and expression questioned the status quo and represented a cornerstone of democracy and noted with concern that some Governments misused their authority to curb those rights. Governments had the primary responsibility to protect human rights and should adopt mechanisms to protect journalists which would be tailored to their specific needs. The Czech Republic agreed that violations of media freedom and attacks against journalists were the result of the deficiency of implementation of existing norms and standards and asked the Special Rapporteur what were the most effective preventive measures that States should adopt.
Lithuania acknowledged the need to secure the work and physical security of journalists and the necessity to tackle the impunity of the perpetrators of these violations. Lithuania fully concurred with Mr. La Rue on the State’s responsibility to protect journalists from any kind of violence and the illegal and inadequate use of State power. Lithuania expressed its support for the proposed adoption of a United Nations Joint Plan of Action for the Protection for Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. This was one of the opportunities for the international community to take action to strengthen the safety of journalists that should not be omitted.
Mexico reiterated Mexico’s commitment to the protection of journalists and said that a legal framework was needed in which the rights of those disseminating information and truth would be protected; this framework needed to be based on democracy. In Mexico, several measures had been taken to strengthen such a framework, including the approval of the law on the protection of human rights defenders and journalists. There was a need to protect anyone who disseminated and shared information and ideas, as well as the public that received them.
Cuba asked, with regards to extrajudicial executions, whether any research had been planned on the impact of the use of drones and other forms and means of selective assassinations. The reports had at times taken a limited approach and that one could not come to conclusions and recommendations on the basis of partial studies. There was no internationally recognized definition of a journalist. Also, bloggers could be sources of false information and facilitate foreign aggression and Cuba was a victim of Internet use for subversive ends.
Slovenia said that specific attention should be given to online reporting involving journalists and bloggers that in some countries continued to face challenges on a daily basis. States had both a duty to respect and protect journalists which should be able to work independently. Often, domestic legal frameworks were not in line with international standards. Slovenia asked what an alternative could be in situations where there was no willingness by Governments to protect journalists and bloggers.
Slovakia said that it was particularly concerned by the fact that 2011 brought about a significant increase in the number of attacks against journalists in various forms. Such acts represented serious human rights violations that required a resolute, robust reaction. It was the primary responsibility of Governments to ensure the protection of the media.
Netherlands stressed three points made in the report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression: the notion that every country needed a mechanism to protect journalists, online or offline; that in many places people were being fined or jailed for content published online on the basis of general legal provisions; and the reference to the positive obligation of States to promote freedom of expression and the need to ensure that independent, plural, and diverse media could flourish. The Netherlands asked Mr. La Rue for examples of decriminalisation of online content on the Internet.
Finland said that many journalists continued to face harassment and violence in many forms. International human rights law contained strong standards for the protection of the freedom of opinion and expression. A cross-regional group would present a draft resolution on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet, endorsing equal rights online. Finland asked Mr. La Rue how international standards protecting freedom of expression on the Internet could be effectively promoted on the ground.
France said that the situation of journalists was alarming and continued to deteriorate. Sixty-six journalists had been killed last year, including two French journalists in Syria. Measures could only be effective when accompanied by a determined struggle against impunity. How did the Special Rapporteur envision cooperation with the work on the United Nations plan of action on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity adopted in 2012? France noted the increasing amount of legislation condemning freedom of expression on the basis of defamation allegations, which favoured self-censorship, how did the Mr. La Rue account for the development of this form of abusive legislation?
Norway said that the negative trend of killing or harassing of journalists was similar to trends that human rights defenders had experienced for many years. Norway welcomed that the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression had highlighted the situation of untrained citizen journalists who were playing an increasingly important role in reporting on events on the ground, and asked how to secure them better in the future. The present challenge to the protection of journalists was the insufficient implementation of existing normative frameworks at the national and international level. The primary objective was protection as more than 70 per cent of journalists murdered had received prior threats. Norway asked Mr. Heyns to elaborate on concrete good practices in promoting safety of journalists.
Greece welcomed the focus on the protection of journalists and media freedom outside the context of armed conflict in Mr. La Rue’s report and said that there could be no justification in the limitation of the freedom of journalists and freedom of press with the exception of types of expression contained in international human rights instruments. Greece was alarmed by the high number of journalists in prison and asked the Special Rapporteur how the Human Rights Council could effectively exert political pressure on Governments to ensure that the rights to freedom of opinion and expression of journalists were fully respected. Greece asked the Special Rapporteur on summary executions to comment on the murders of environmental journalists and how accountability could be achieved in those cases.
Iraq said that it had created in 2010 a Tribunal for Publications and Media competent for civil and criminal aspects related to the work of journalists. In accordance with the Constitution, Iraq had prepared a draft law on freedom of expression and of assembly, which took into account the international standards and the opinion of international organizations, national organizations and the Iraqi Parliament. Iraq was currently undergoing a positive revolution in the press; the number of local newspapers was in hundreds, while satellite TV and radio stations operated independently and broadcasted in local languages. The Internet was now available to all parts of society at very low prices.
Ireland said it was vital that any legislation regarding attacks against journalists prohibited compulsory membership in professional journalist organizations or licensing systems for those who wished to practice journalism. Ireland asked what role the Council could play in promoting the broad definitions of journalism to include citizen journalists, bloggers and other commentators. Furthermore, protection afforded to women journalists, bloggers and defenders had to take their gender into account.
Thailand said that the media and journalists played a vital role as a watchdog of the Government. Journalists’ and media freedom should be protected in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. A challenge was how to strike a right balance between the right to freedom of expression and the rule of law. Thailand was particularly interested in the role of media workers and citizen journalists.
Uruguay said that attacks against journalists were contrary to principles and values of the rule of law and also directly impacted on the social inclusion and democratization of society. Uruguay renewed its commitment to strengthening the right of freedom of access to information including public information and that this was enshrined in its laws and deep set convictions. Impunity favoured the increase of risks faced by journalists in all contexts. The problem was not the lack of international legal frameworks and norms but rather the effective application of pre-existing ones at all levels.
Russian Federation said that social media could not be equated with journalism since it was not committed to professional ethics and lacked clear responsibilities and specific legal regulation. The Russian Federation noted that the request by the Arab League to halt the transmission of Syrian national television countered freedom of expression; and asked the Special Rapporteur to comment on the case of Mr. Assange in relation to the rights of journalists. Concerning the work of Mr. Heyns, the Russian Federation indicated that the safety of journalists had been taken by other bodies and that he should focus on more relevant issues for his mandate such as killings carried out through drones.
Costa Rica indicated that the work of journalists was essential for any democratic society. Concerning the report of Mr. La Rue, Costa Rica agreed that the main challenge remained with the implementation of national and international standards. States had the responsibility to prevent violations and combat impunity. Costa Rica had joined the coalition for online freedom following a conference in The Hague in 2011, and noted with concern measures taken by some States against online freedom of expression. “Citizen journalists” in many cases shaped public opinion and conveyed well-founded denunciations, and they should be protected.
Brazil indicated that its Congress was currently discussing a bill to promote the rights of journalists by federalising prosecution in cases of crimes committed against them and the relevant authorities had failed to take measures. In Brazil, cases of violence could be reported to the Human Rights Secretariat for follow up; and journalists at risk benefited from the programme for the protection of human rights defenders. Brazil asked the Special Rapporteurs to comment on national policies, laws and good practices for the protection of journalists in both developed and developing countries.
Morocco shared the view of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression that the number of violations against journalists was due to shortcomings in the implementation of existing normative frameworks. Morocco also shared the concern about women journalists who were more exposed to violence and noted the need for gender-sensitive approaches to the protection of journalists, as well as greater regional and international cooperation in this regard. Morocco shared the views of the Special Rapporteur on summary executions that the challenge was in ensuring that international standards for protection were fully implemented and reflected in the national framework.
Syria drew the attention of Mr. La Rue to the decision of the League of Arab States to stop the broadcasting of the Syrian satellite channel which was contrary to a number of international standards and norms. Syria further denounced the silence of the League of Arab States concerning the broadcasts of other satellite channels which were inciting hatred in Syria. Syria recalled that Syria had sent information on a permanent basis to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and various Special Procedures and had reported exactions perpetrated by armed terrorist groups in this country.
Bangladesh said that Bangladesh saluted those journalists who had lost lives in the line of duty and said that there was no dispute that freedom of expression was a fundamental human right that needed to be protected. However, this right needed to be exercised with respect for standards. Journalism must be seen as a profession that offered services to any society. There were two essential elements to be taken into consideration when talking about the protection of journalists, namely the action of non-State actors and the professionalism of journalists themselves, and noted the need for journalists to respect professional codes of conduct.
Romania said Romania found it alarming and of concern that the number of journalists currently in prison was at its highest since 1996. It wished to know whether present standards were sufficient for the protection of journalists and wondered whether the Special Rapporteur would recommend that the Human Rights Council and other bodies codify existing norms for the protection of the freedom of expression of journalists, especially those that used non-traditional media mediums.
Peru was concerned by the many attacks, threats and assassinations that journalists were subject to in all regions of the world. Peru shared the idea of the need to disseminate international norms and available mechanisms to prevent the occurrence of these acts. It enquired about the role that national human rights institutions could play in the prevention of violence against journalists, and in the dissemination of standards and norms for their protection. Furthermore, a gender-based approach was necessary. All persons who wished to share or receive information should be free to do so, in respect of pertinent international laws.
Botswana urged that support should be given to human rights defenders and institutions in addition to Governments. Journalists must take responsibility for the reports they produced to ensure accuracy and balance. Governments had the responsibility for national security and enforcement of permissible restrictions on freedom, but a balance had to be struck. Botswana shared the view of the Special Rapporteurs that the world was better off with more democratic space than with less.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization noted that 50 journalists and media workers including bloggers had been killed as of May 2012, and this figure was nearly double of those from the same period in 2010 and 2011. Attacks against journalists created a climate of fear and self-censorship, it was crucial for democracy to protect the lives of journalists. UNESCO’s mandate included the promotion of the free flow of ideas by word and image; it had a commitment to ensure the safety of journalists and had produced manuals, supplied training for journalists, and conducted global awareness campaigns.
Organisation internationale de la Francophonie said that journalism constituted a basic service to society. Through the 2000 Bamako Declaration, members of the Organisation recognised the essential role played by the media and committed to ensure respect for freedom of the press. The Organisation was convinced of the fundamental role which must and could be played by the media in an environment of physical and moral integrity; and followed carefully the conclusions and recommendations of this dialogue in order to reinforce concerted actions among States, civil society and the United Nations system, to ensure freedom of opinion and expression.
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network said in a joint statement that countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, Latvia and Republic of Moldova had enacted or were considering new laws that threatened the right to freedom of expression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and others. Those laws were so vague that it was not sure what kind of expression was prohibited. What could be done to ensure that national laws respected the right to freedom of expression for all including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons?
American Civil Liberties Union deeply appreciated the call of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for increased transparency and accountability in the use of armed drones for targeted killings and shared the concern that the United States had not complied with international law requirements mandating the protection of civilians. The United States Government should disclose their definition of civilians, the number of civilians killed, and compensate the victims of their wrongdoings.
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights thanked the Special Rapporteurs for their continued communications with China on the human rights situation faced by the Tibetan people and was grateful for the Joint Urgent Appeal of February 2012 communicated to China by seven mandate holders. The right to freedom of expression of Tibetan people was violently and repeatedly curtailed by Chinese authorities. China had to date failed to open an independent investigation to extra-judicial killings of Tibetans in 2008 as requested by the Special Rapporteur.
Colombian Commission of Jurists noted that in 2010 at least 56 persons were victims of extrajudicial executions. The Colombian Commission noted with concern a constitutional reform project which intended to establish selection criteria for the investigation of human rights violations, thus effectively allowing the State to renounce to judicial prosecution certain cases; a second constitutional reform on the military justice system created a list of crimes which would be excluded from military justice. The NGO urged the Special Rapporteur to continue to follow up the implementation of recommendations and fight against impunity in Colombia.
For use of the information media; not an official record