UN Special Rapporteur defends freedom of expression

  • Date / 10 March 2008

The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Ambeyi Ligabo, has submitted an important report to the UN Human Rights Council, which has just been published. Most of the report is concerned with blatant violations of press freedom, including the arbitrary detention and murder of journalists, but he shares IHEU’s concerns about inappropriate attempts to extend limitations on freedom of expression to give unfair “protection” to religions.

In particular, see:
Para 40: “The Special Rapporteur is also concerned about the trend of increasing the scope of defamation laws to include the protection of subjective values, such as a sense of national identity, religions, State symbols, institutions or even representatives such as the Head of State. The Special Rapporteur reiterates that the provisions on protection of reputation contained in international human rights law are designed to protect individuals, not abstract values or institutions.”
Para 43: “criminal defamation is not a justifiable restriction on freedom of expression; all criminal defamation laws should be abolished and replaced, where necessary, with appropriate civil defamation laws”.
Para 63: “it has been argued that the dogmatic use of freedom of expression as a fundamental human right has undermined people’s ability to fully enjoy other human rights, in particular freedom of religion. The Special Rapporteur strongly rejects such a view”
Para 65 suggests an equitable process for deciding where the limits to freedom of expression should be drawn.
Para 66 points out that “broader interpretation of these limitations, which has been recently suggested in international forums, is not in line with existing international instruments and would ultimately jeopardize the full enjoyment of human rights”.

In his summary (para 84) he expresses the need for “sensitivity” in exercising freedom of expression, but in para 85 goes on to point out that the limitations to freedom of expression that are in place in existing human rights instruments “were designed in order to protect individuals against direct violations of their rights. These limitations are not intended to suppress the expression of critical views, controversial opinions or politically incorrect statements. Finally, they are not designed to protect belief systems from… criticism“. [emphasis added]

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