Council holds dialogue with Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression
Monday, 07 June 2010 14:41


On 3 and 4 June 2010, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr Frank La Rue, presented his annual report to the Human Rights Council (the Council). In addition to general considerations on the right to freedom of expression and opinion, the report touched upon three main themes: freedom of expression and opinion for groups in need of particular attention; permissible restrictions and limitations on freedom of expression; and protection of journalists and freedom of the press. In his opening statement, Mr La Rue called upon States to put in place policies to allow for access to information; defined stringent standards for acceptable limitations on the right to freedom of expression; repeated his stance that ‘defamation of religion’ does not belong in the realm of human rights dialogue; provided statistics on an increase in the number of journalists killed in recent years; and raised a number of areas of concern with regard to his recent visit to the Republic of Korea.


In comparison with discussion following Mr La Rue’s presentation of his first report at the 11th session of the Council in June 2009, the interactive dialogue at this session was relatively positive. The first report had generated heated controversy due to the perception of some States that Mr La Rue had not fulfilled his mandate, specifically allegations that he had ignored the amendment to his mandate introduced by Pakistan, on behalf of the OIC, in March 2008 calling on the Special Rapporteur to report on instances in which the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination. During this year’s dialogue however, this issue was only directly raised by Egypt.



Such criticism seems to have been deflected partially by Mr La Rue’s comprehensive examination of  permissible restrictions and limitations on freedom of expression, a discussion that was welcomed by the majority of States, though for differing reasons. The United Kingdom and United States recognised the existing limitations as set out in articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), while arguing that in combating intolerance, promotion of freedom of expression is always preferable to limitations. A number of States agreed that the right to freedom of expression is not an absolute right while noting that any restrictions or limitations need to be compatible with international law (Chile, Peru, Brazil, Angola). The question of whether such restrictions apply to defamation of religion remains the main point of division.


As with the presentation of his report at the 11th session of the Council, a significant number of States voiced their disagreement with the Special Rapporteur on his rejection of the concept of 'defamation of religion' (Pakistan on behalf of the OIC, Bangladesh, Nigeria on behalf of the African Group, Egypt, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Iran). These States continued to argue that defamation of religion constitutes incitement to discrimination, hatred, or violence, in violation of article 19 of the ICCPR. Bangladesh specifically criticised Mr La Rue for taking a ‘particular position’, and thus compromising possible dialogue, noting that the human rights regime must develop and evolve, and dealing with defamation as a human rights issue is ‘logical’. In his closing address, Mr La Rue said that the discussion on defamation had been ‘exhausted’ and though he remains seriously concerned about discrimination on the basis of religion, the phenomenon cannot be combated or confronted with censorship or restrictions on freedom of expression. He noted that criminal legislation to limit this freedom will inevitably be used for political purposes or against minorities. Although these positions continue to be firmly entrenched, the more diplomatic language used, and the requests by both sides for dialogue and building of understanding, are positive developments for constructive interaction between the Special Rapporteur and the Council.


Another issue that received attention was the deteriorating security situation of journalists and bloggers worldwide (European Union, Chile, Norway, UK, Denmark, Canada, France, Philippines, Mexico). Out of the six States singled out in the Special Rapporteur’s report for the greatest number of journalists’ deaths (Philippines, Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Mexico) only four addressed the issue directly in the interactive dialogue. The Russian Federation responded with a strongly-worded statement that noted that regardless of whether attacks on journalists were related to their professional activity, investigations are undertaken and guilty parties are given the ‘punishment they deserve’; the Philippines noted that States have a duty to carry out investigations in response to such violence; Iraq stated  that most journalists killed were due to terrorism, but a law on the protection of journalists is being developed; and Mexico noted that violence and threats against journalists are a result of organised crime, and special measures have been taken in this regard. Somalia did not take the floor, and Pakistan did not refer to the issue.


 The Republic of Korea thanked Mr La Rue for his visit in May 2010, noting that it is currently carrying out a careful review of his preliminary observations and will present relevant information to the Special Rapporteur upon completion. The Republic of Korea also expressed its hope that the country mission report to be presented in 2011 will be written in a ‘fair and balanced manner’.


Other issues that were touched upon included: the practice of special procedures submitting joint communications (Ecuador); the role of freedom of expression in combating racism, xenophobia, and discrimination (European Union, South Africa, Denmark, France, Azerbaijan); the specific importance of freedom of expression for minorities (Chile, Peru, South Africa, Canada, Indonesia); and the important role of the internet and communications technology with regards to freedom of expression (Peru, Brazil, Canada, Sweden).

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 August 2010 17:05
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