The Freedom of Expression – China and Cambodia – and the Internet

The UN Human Rights Council – an “inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe” – had decided, in September 2011,

“to convene, within existing resources, at its nineteenth session, a panel discussion on the promotion and protection of freedom of expression on the Internet, with a particular focus on the ways and means to improve its protection in accordance with international human rights law.”

It further requested “the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to liaise with relevant special procedures, States and other stakeholders, including relevant United Nations bodies and agencies, with a view to ensuring multi-stakeholder participation in the panel discussion.”

Now, during its session from 27 February to 23 March 2012, the Human Rights Council held a panel discussion on the right to Freedom of Expression on the Internet during it’s meeting on 29 February 2012. For the preparation of his event, a Concept Note [which can be accessed here under Concept paper - panel on FOE and Internet] had been elaborated which says among others:

The objectives of the panel are to:

  • Draw attention to current challenges posed to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression and opinion on the Internet;
  • Identify positive and practical steps that Member States can take to respect, protect and promote the right to freedom of expression on the Internet; and
  • Identify positive and practical steps that Member States can take on the key recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

The panel will aim to meet these objectives through an interactive discussion around the following questions:

  • All States have an obligation to guarantee all individuals’ right to freedom of opinion and expression exercised through any communications medium, as stipulated in articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Internet is a unique and powerful tool which facilitates individuals “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds” inexpensively and instantaneously regardless of frontiers. How can this right be best respected, protected and promoted when exercised through the Internet?

The session of the UN Human Rights Council on the right to Freedom of Expression on the Internet was opened with a statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pilla, where also different stakeholder, including from civil society – Anriette Esterhuizen, the Executive Director of the Association for Progressive Communication – made their contributions, as can be see in the following video clip.

I share this information here, because Mr. Xia Jingge, representing China, stated that he is not only presenting the position of his government on the issue of the Freedom of Expression on the Internet, but that he is also speaking on behalf of Cambodia, and of some other countries.

A non official translation of a transcript of the Statement makes it possible to see in which way the concerns expressed in the Concept Note to “identify positive and practical steps that Member States can take to respect, protect and promote the right to freedom of expression on the Internet” are implemented:

I am honored to deliver a joint statement on behalf of the following countries: Algeria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Burundi, Cambodia, Congo, Cuba, Democratic Peoples Republic of [North] Korea, Ethiopia, Iran, Laos, Malaysia, Mauritania, Myanmar, Namibia, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Zimbabwe and China.

The Internet has become an indispensable tool of our daily lives and plays an important role in human development. The right to freedom of expression is one of the fundamental human rights and should be respected and protected. Free expression of opinion, receipt and dissemination of useful information through different media, including the Internet, can further the promotion of mutual understanding and common development of the peoples. However, freedom of expression is not absolute and should be exercised in strict accordance with the international law, especially with respect to art. 19, 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and article 4 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Neither should it be used as a pretext for activities in violation or even destruction of human rights and elements of freedom, the absence and abuse of freedom of expression on the Internet in particular, can encroach on the rights and dignity of other individuals and social stability and security and even national security. The Internet is often used to propagate terrorism, extremism and racism, xenophobia even ideas of toppling legitimate authorities. Moreover, the Internet is used by some groups to distort fact, exaggerate situation and provoke violence in an attempt to acetate tension it appears and gain political benefits and is also used by criminals for outlawed activities and have access to facilities. The Internet has also been used to disseminate pornographic and violent information that corrupts people’s mind, affront their cultural values and induce them to be involved in criminal activities, in this regards, children are most vulnerable and frequently become active victims. The digital divide has prevented people from developing countries from access to information through the Internet. We affirm the importance of using the Internet in compliance with Intellectual Property rights protection. At the same time, we believe any technical impediment to restrict access to the Internet in the name of intellectual property rights should not be used. We call on the international community, to cooperate to promote access to the Internet and new technology in the developing countries.

Mr. Moderator, all stakeholder of the Internet should make concerted efforts to prevent and combat the abuse of Freedom of Expression on the Internet. Internet users of all countries should respect the right and dignity of others; contribute to maintaining social stability and safeguarding national security. The Internet industry should act to foster a crime free, reliable and secure cyberspace, Governments should strengthen legislation in efforts of Internet regulation and law enforcement activities, with the aim of combating criminal activities. All countries should start as soon as possible to discussion on effective ways to promote international cooperation on Internet regulation for building safety and confidence on the Internet. Thank you, Mr. Moderator.

It is not explained which Ministries of the Kingdom of Cambodia were involved in proposing to join the Statement presented by the representative of China also on behalf of Cambodia.

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