At the opening of the 32nd UN Human Rights Council (HRC), the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, delivered a searing assessment of the global situation for human rights, appealing for immediate action from states.
“On the UN HRC’s tenth anniversary, the gulf between its own freedom of expression standards and national realities is ever wider,” said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.
“The High Commissioner’s assessment of the global human rights situation confirms that civil society space continues to shrink. For the HRC to maintain its legitimacy in the coming decade, it must ensure that states close the implementation gap, and protect freedom of expression on the ground,” Hughes added.
During a general debate with UN states and other stakeholders at the HRC in Geneva, ARTICLE 19 delivered an oral statement responding to the High Commissioner’s update (see below).
The statement reflects that, in many of the country situations cited by the High Commissioner, violations of the right to freedom of expression are a common feature. It highlights various freedom of expression resolutions that ARTICLE 19 has advocated for the adoption of at the HRC in recent years, but laments that states are not doing enough to ensure these lead to stronger protection for rights at the national level.
Violations of freedom of expression are a global concern
Oral Statement – Item 2 Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights
14 June 2016
Delivered by Andrew Smith, ARTICLE 19
ARTICLE 19 shares the High Commissioner’s concern that “clampdowns on public freedoms, and crackdowns on civil society activists and human rights defenders, are hacking away at the forces which uphold the healthy functioning of societies.”
In the vast majority of the 50 countries the High Commissioner addresses, violations of freedom of expression are a common thread. Reflecting on the Council’s first 10 years, this captures succinctly an institutional problem: the widening implementation gap between this Council’s free expression standards and national realities.
In resolution 20/8, this Council proclaimed: “the same human rights that apply offline must also be protected online”. We reiterate the High Commissioner’s condemnation of the assassinations of bloggers, including free thinkers, liberals, religious minorities and LGBT activists, expressing themselves online in Bangladesh. This Council must call on public officials and religious leaders to unequivocally condemn these murders.
In resolution 27/5, this Council called on States to end impunity for murders and attacks against journalists. We join the High Commissioner in condemning the incoming Philippines President’s incitement to violence against journalists. The High Commissioner rightly observes: “criticism of people in power is not a crime”. In too many countries, new laws are being adopted and draconian laws applied to deny free expression, including to arbitrarily detain journalists. We repeat that Turkey must cease its sustained harassment against journalists, release all those detained for legitimate reporting, and substantially reform the Penal Code.
In resolution 27/31, this Council called on all States to ensure, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling environment for civil society. The relentless attack against civil society in Egypt warrants attention from this Council under Item 4. We share concerns at the shrinking of civil society space in Hungary, Poland, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Russia, and Cambodia. We call on all States to engage with and implement the recommendations of the High Commissioner’s report on civil society space to be presented in this Session.
Attacks on human rights in protest, including in Kenya, are a grave concern. We call on all States to develop national action plans to implement the joint practical recommendations of the Special Rapporteurs on Arbitrary Executions and Freedom of Peaceful Assembly on the proper management of assemblies.
Finally, we share the High Commissioner’s concern that “hate is being mainstreamed”, and that this “bleeds nations of their resilience”. We ask what more can be done to implement the Rabat Plan of Action, endorsed by this Council in resolutions subsequent to resolution 16/18.
On its tenth anniversary, we call on the Council to do much more to address the implementation gap, and endorse the joint civil society proposals presented by ISHR, CIVICUS and Human Rights Watch, during the panel discussion yesterday.
Unresolved, this implementation gap threatens becoming a fatal credibility gap. As the High Commissioner said yesterday: it is not yet too late to act.