The 50th Session of the Human Rights Council

13 June – 8 July 2022

Agenda Item 3 – Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, including the right to development

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

 24th June 2022

 

By Hadil Hammami / GICJ

 

Executive Summary

On the 24th of June 2022, the HRC held an Interactive Dialogue with a Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Irene Khan, titled: Reinforcing media freedom and the safety of journalists in the digital age.

In her report, the Special Rapporteur, called on the Council to urgently address the long-standing violence and legal harassment endured by female journalists on and off media platforms, with much focus placed on Hungary. Ms. Khan stated that attacks often target women belonging to religious and ethnic minorities or individuals that identify as gender non-conforming. She emphasised that “no woman should trade off her freedom of expression for her right to safety.” The Special Rapporteur expressed her deep concern regarding the prevalence of this issue, claiming that it represents a “severe contemporary threat to journalists' lives”. Furthermore, she noted that this year marked the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

During the meeting, the Special Rapporteur provided specific recommendations to the Council, the international community, and state delegations. She urged all attending representatives to strengthen multi-stakeholder cooperation to promote media freedom and ensure the safety of journalists in today’s digital age.

 

Background

On 11th May 2021, Ms. Irene Khan published her report regarding her official visit to Hungry from 15 to 22 November 2021, at the invitation of the Government. Based on the A/HRC/RES/43/4 adopted on 19 June 2020, on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur expressed in her report grave concern at the attacks on media freedom, independence, and pluralism in Hungary over the past decade.

By adopting laws and policies that have enhanced the political influence of the ruling party over media regulatory bodies and public service media, favouring media outlets supportive of its political agenda, ostracising, and delegitimizing other outlets, weakening the independence of the judiciary, and stigmatising civil society actors, the government has endangered media freedom and freedom of opinion and expression.

Ms. Khan stated that her report demonstrates the challenges and threats to media freedom and the safety of journalists. The Special Rapporteur recommended that relevant laws and policies should be revised to ensure information from diverse sources, news, and opinions.

She championed independent, free and pluralistic media as an indispensable pillar of multi-party democracy and stressed the need to ensure its protection.

 

Interactive Dialogue

The delegate of Hungary thanked the Special Rapporteur for her presentation and her country visit. However, the delegation considered the report incomplete and accused it of not adequately reflecting various viewpoints and recommendations of the Hungarian state bodies. For example, the report failed to mention that the attainment of freedom of opinion and expression is a continuous process that requires timely revision. This adaptation is tethered to general dialogues and considerations among all interested parties.   The delegate explained that the report also contains several factual errors. For instance, firstly, the media council and the regulatory authority are separate entities, and their setup is relevant to the EU legal framework. Secondly, the labelling of all TV channels and radio stations as pro-government lacks evidentiary support. Hence, the delegate added that the report is largely based on perception and allegations without much proof or evidence.

The delegate ended her statement by assuring the Council that the original report has been amended to reflect certain suggestions.  Yet, she continued to show her doubts about the impartiality of the report.

The European delegation reaffirms its commitment to the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression of all individuals. The delegation called for the right of all journalists to work in a safe environment. The delegate concluded the statement with a question to the Special Rapporteur regarding the role of the UN in the process of developing media and information skills for journalists to differentiate between reliable and unverified information.

UN Women expressed their support for the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur and urged member-states to protect female journalists from gender-based violence. The delegation shared their concern in regard to rising attacks against female journalists especially those belonging to religious and gender minorities. These incidents are causing depression, trauma, panic attacks, and consequently loss of self-esteem among female journalists. The delegate completed the statement with a question to the Special Rapporteur regarding stringent measures to ensure that female journalists do not need to trade their freedom of expression for safety.

The delegation of Qatar stated that sharing facts and evidence through media and press contributes to the promotion of human rights including the right of opinion and expression. However, spreading false information can violate them. In reference to Article 19 of the International Covenant of Civil Rights, the delegate confirmed that freedom of expression may be subject to some restrictions to ensure that the rights of others are not violated. The delegate concluded his statement by inviting the Special Rapporteur to focus on future reports on the negative impacts of spreading fake news and hate speech.

The Palestinian delegation stated that serious attention should be given to the perpetration of war crimes against the Palestinians. The delegate made reference to the killing of Palestinian journalist Sherine Abu Akleh by occupying forces and other attacks aimed at silencing the international media. The delegate concluded the statement by urging the international community to take all the necessary actions to put an end to the atrocity and act against impunity.

 The delegation of Jordan (on behalf of the Arabic group) insisted on the protection of journalists and highlighted the importance of their role in efforts to fight corruption and defend human rights. The delegation condemned the killing of Palestinian journalist Sherine Abu Akleh by the Israeli forces. The delegate stated that an independent investigation must be undertaken to put pressure on the Israeli government to allow the commission to exercise its mandate. He insisted on taking punitive measures against the occupying country in case it continues to obstruct justice.

The delegation of Libya emphasised the need for UN involvement to protect journalists and their right to expression. The delegate insisted on the necessity to take action to help journalists carry out their work. The delegate concluded by urging all states to consider these recommendations in their national legislation.

The delegation of Iraq started by highlighting the need to ensure the safety of journalists. He emphasised - in reference to Article 19 of the International Declaration of Human Rights -  its commitment to ensuring freedom of opinion and expression for all. The delegate emphasised the need to provide a safe environment for all journalists considering them an observer of the government or society disorder.

The delegation of Algeria acknowledged the crucial role of communication and technology in consolidating democracy and confirmed that its newly amended constitution offers legal protection for journalists. The delegate expressed concern about the right to freedom of expression being used to justify the spread of hate speech and discrimination. The delegate concluded with a question to the Special Rapporteur about the border limit between the freedom of expression and the spread of discrimination speech hate.

Yemen condemned the violation of the right to freedom of expression by the Houthi militia. The delegate urged the international community and the UN to take action against all violations inflicted on journalists in Yemen and called for the liberation of 4 journalists kidnapped by militia groups.

The delegation of Syria expressed its reservations on the general assessment contained in the report on government systems for the registration and licensing of journalists. The delegate considered that the case referred to in paragraph 53/ 69 is not related to any action against journalists, and the Special Rapporteur has ignored the clarification provided by Syria regarding the circumstances related to this topic. The delegate declared its rejection of the politicising of the subject as mentioned by the European Union and the fact that some countries considered themselves the only source of information.

The representative of South Africa emphasised the importance of the freedom of expression and opinion to ensure democratic participation. The delegate stated that despite the evolution of communication technology and the positive impact on the freedom of expression, it is a necessary reminder that freedom of expression is not absolute.

The delegation of Nigeria confirmed its recognition of the right to freedom of expression in the legal national framework and its commitments to its international obligation. The delegate considered that the exercise of the right of freedom of expression and opinion must be done responsibly and should not be used as a justification to spread fake news and hate speech that may hinder the enjoyment of all human rights.

The delegation of the Republic of Korea shared concerns about online attacks against journalists and specifically gender-based violence and the practice of impunity. The delegate concluded by asking the Special Rapporteur to further elaborate on the perks of new technologies in promoting digital inclusion

The European Union delegation (on behalf of a group of countries) condemned the arrest and detention of protesters after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The delegation requested that Russian authorities cease attacks against members of the political opposition and encouraged the High Commissioner to report such violations to the Council on the human rights situation in Russia.

The delegate of Poland (on behalf of Lithuania and Ukraine) expressed its commitment to protect and promote freedom of opinion and expression at the national and international levels. He described how the ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine is impacting the work of journalists and media workers worldwide. The Russian strategy facilitates the spread of propaganda and disinformation that restricts all media activities. The delegate ended by drawing a parallel to Belarus and demanded clarification regarding measures that should be taken to ensure the safety of all the journalists.

The delegation of Switzerland emphasised the preoccupation of the Special Rapporteur and its impacts on democratic societies. The delegate stated that states should ensure one numeric space clear, free, and open to all with the objective of diversity, transparency, and verification of facts and resources.

The delegation of France claimed that there is no rule of law without freedom of expression. The delegate expressed their support for the raising of restrictions against freedom of the press, around the world. He made references to the manipulation of information in Russia and Belarus and lamented the fact that the Taliban has imposed totalitarian rule in Afghanistan. He condemned the assassinations and arrests of journalists and emphasised the defence of free, independent, and pluralist media. He reminded member-states that they have invested over 43 million euros to support the notion of an independent media in the backdrop of a legal framework (the law on the prevention of digital information manipulation).

The delegation of Austria (on behalf of the Geneva group of friends of the safety of the journalists) expressed their concern about the decline of media freedom and the rising threats to the safety of journalists and media workers across the world. The delegate condemned the increasing levels of intimidation, harassment, and violence against journalists, mentioning specifically the killing of Palestinian journalist Sherine Abu Akleh in Genuine. The delegate emphasised that the investigation should clarify the circumstances of this incident and that accountability must be ensured.

NGOs and civil society organisations

Numerous NGOs shared similar concerns regarding the deterioration of the right to freedom of expression and opinion. Most statements offered insight into the increasing number of attacks against journalists, media workers, and human rights defenders in multiple countries.

NGOs urged the international community and member states to take urgent action to ensure a safe and secure environment for all journalists.

The statements included the necessity of translating all states' commitments to adhere to International Human Rights Law and to end impunity for crimes against journalists and media workers.

 

Concluding observations of the Special Rapporteur:

The Special Rapporteur began her statement by welcoming the comments of Hungary and confirmed that her team was continuing to monitor the situation in Hungary.

In response to questions regarding digital technologies, Ms. Khan referred to the report presented by her predecessor, Mr. David Kai, and her report on disinformation and freedom of expression. In this report, Ms. Khan stated that she urged the government to focus on strengthening the human rights commitments of companies, ensuring accountability, and strengthening data protection. The Special Rapporteur emphasised that states should not restrict lawful online content.

In regards to the online violence and attacks against women as well as gender-based violence, the Special Rapporteur declared that “no woman should have to make a choice between being on social media or ensuring her safety”. Ms. Khan added that an ongoing report is being prepared on gender-based violence and the protection of journalists in conflict areas.

Considering the UN's role in the protection of freedom of expression and journalists' safety, Ms. Khan stated that it consists of providing technical assistance to developing countries to ensure digital accessibility to all parts of society.

 

Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) thanks the Special Rapporteur for her report regarding the protection of journalists and the need to ensure freedom of the press.

GICJ strongly condemns the violence perpetrated against journalists including gender-based violence on and off media platforms, against minorities. We call on the international community to ensure all journalists’ right to freedom of opinion and expression are upheld.

Furthermore, we urge member-states to assure journalists' safety and protection by creating specific international laws that will guarantee the rights and protection of journalists and freedom of the press.

Hungary, Journalists, Freedom of expression and opinion, Human Rights, Geneva, geneva4justice, GICJ, Geneva International Centre For Justice


 

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