World Press Freedom Day: Special Rapporteurs call for protection of freedom of expression when countering violent extremism

World Press Freedom Day: Special Rapporteurs call for protection of freedom of expression when countering violent extremism - Civic Space

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the 2016 The Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Countering Violent Extremism by four international experts mandated by the UN, African Union, Organization of American States and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, released during the UNESCO celebrations of World Press Freedom Day. The Joint Declaration raises serious concerns about the potentially negative impact on the enjoyment of human rights of initiatives to counter or prevent violent extremism (CVE/PVE) and provides series of recommendations to prevent violations.

ARTICLE 19 shares concerns expressed by the four special mandates that, while packaged as positive measures, many CVE/PVE initiatives risk having a detrimental impact on human rights, particularly the right to freedom of expression, as well as the freedoms of religion or belief, of association, the right to privacy, and equality and freedom from discrimination,” said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

“The lack of an agreed definition for ‘violent extremism’ opens the door to human rights abuses. We know that many governments target journalists, bloggers, political dissidents, activists, and human rights defenders by labelling them as ‘extremists’ or ‘terrorists.’ The Joint Declaration draws on expertise from different international and regional experts to challenge human rights violations in the context of countering violent extremism,” added Hughes.

The Joint Declaration provides civil society with a powerful advocacy tool and highlights that any frameworks aiming to counter violence or incitement to violence must be based on respect for human rights and rule of law. Freedom of expression plays an important role in promoting equality and in combating intolerance. Any restrictions on freedom of expression in the context of CVE/PVE must be based on evidence of their effectiveness and a legal framework to support their necessity and proportionality to achieve legitimate objectives.

Recommendations to states in the Joint Declaration include, but are not limited to:

  • All CVE/PVE programmes and initiatives should respect human rights and the rule of law, and contain specific safeguards against abuses. They should be independently reviewed on a regular basis to determine their impact on human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, and these reviews should be made public;
  • Any key part of any strategy to combat terrorism and violence should be to support independent media and communications diversity;
  • CVE/PVE programmes and initiatives must be adopted in a transparent manner and with the effective participation of affected communities;
  • The concepts of “violent extremism” and “extremism” should not be used as the basis for restricting freedom of expression unless they are defined clearly and appropriately narrowly. Any restrictions drawing upon a CVE/PVE framework should be demonstrably necessary and proportionate to protect, in particular, the rights of others, national security or public order. The same applies whenever the concept is invoked to limit the activities of civil society, including in relation to their establishment or funding, or to impose restrictions on fundamental rights, including the right to protest;
  • States should not subject Internet intermediaries to mandatory orders to remove or otherwise restrict content except where the content is lawfully restricted in accordance with the standards outlined above. States should refrain from pressuring, punishing or rewarding intermediaries with the aim of restricting lawful content;
  • States should never base surveillance on ethnic or religious profiling or target whole communities, as opposed to specific individuals, and they should put in place appropriate legal, procedural and oversight systems to prevent abuse of surveillance powers;
  • Open debate and access to information about all topics should be encouraged in schools and universities, and in academic, scholarly or historical texts. Academic institutions should respect pluralism, promote intercultural understanding, and support the ability of members of all communities, and particularly marginalised groups, to voice their perspectives and concerns.

Notes for editors

The four international experts on freedom of expression are: David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression; Dunja Mijatovic, the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression for the Organisation of American States; and Pansy Tlakula, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information for the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.

Joint Declarations by the four special rapporteurs have been adopted annually since 1999, covering current universal challenges to freedom of expression. The previous declarations are available here.

ARTICLE 19 has been coordinating the drafting of these Joint Declarations since 1999.

You can download the Joint Declaration here.