UN experts concerned over government-imposed limits on freedom of expression

3 February 2011
Egyptians protesting in Cairo.

A group of United Nations independent human rights experts today voiced alarm at limits imposed by governments on the right to freedom of expression and information, saying recent mass protests in several countries were the result of frustrations by people who felt ignored or neglected.

“Over the past several weeks, men and women in many countries, including Belarus, Egypt and Tunisia, have expressed grievances related to, among others, lack of employment opportunities and infringements on the right to an adequate standard of living,” the independent experts said in a joint statement.

The experts voicing alarm are the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christoph Heyns; the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, El Hadji Malick Sow; and the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue. Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not United Nations staff and are not paid for their work.

“They [people] have also denounced the denial of their right to participate meaningfully in decision-making, underscoring the indivisibility of all human rights – civil, cultural, economic, political and social,” the experts said.

They also voiced concern over the ill-treatment and arbitrary arrests of protesters, journalists, human rights defenders and lawyers, and deplored the disruption of communication networks and interference with the transmission of news.

“As the recent turmoil has demonstrated, ignoring the root causes of such protests is unsustainable, and concerted, effective and prompt action must be taken domestically and internationally to provide an avenue for peaceful redress of human rights grievances, including the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights,” the experts said, expressing their readiness to help countries address those issues.

“We deeply deplore the tragic loss of lives and injuries as a result, in some cases, of the excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators. We urge governments to abide by international standards, including those on the use of force and fire arms,” the trio said.

In addition, they called for “prompt and impartial investigations” into the reported deaths and injuries and the bringing to justice of those responsible for the violations.


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