PSPD in English UN Advocacy 2009-10-15   1939

Speech by Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur





Speech by Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression at the International Workshop ‘Situation of Freedom of Expression in South Korea and the Use of UN Special Procedures’




Introduction of his role as a UN Special Rapporteur and his past career


Let me say, it’s a big honor and a big pressure for me to be here in this location of the human rights commission in Seoul. I have just begun my mandate. I was appointed last year, and I began my mandate – it’s a three-year mandate- on August 1st. So, I have just recently concluded the first year as a rapporteur for the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Uhm, one of the things I’ve been trying to do – I have been very sincere with everyone – is that the UN special procedures – [UN] Human Rights Council’s special procedures – were created to follow specific issues or specific countries, which is why you have the Rapporteurs or the working groups, and in general, I think the UN has made a huge difference in the world, obviously to bring international and universal character of human rights to all corners of the world. But, at the same time, I have the feeling that there’s a lot more to be done.


Basically, Rapporteurs have two official visits a year – all Rapporteurs. There’s approximately 30 thematic Rapporteurs, each one on different human right. And we do two official inquiry visits. But, I decided to do what I call the academic official visits, where you speak as a rapporteur although you’re not in the investigation of a country. This is the case today, I’m obviously not here in Korea at the invitation of the Korean state. This is not an inquiry visit. This is an academic visit for the purpose of sharing the principles and the views on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression.


And in here I was commenting – as we have been here already working at the university – that I’m very pleased as a lawyer, a human rights lawyer, as an activist all my life – I was a member of the cabinet in the past – as a presidential commissioner for human rights, but I’m also a journalist, especially on the radio – I have done radio for more than seven years, and I’m a columnist. And for me, it was a great opportunity to link human rights with communication, with media, and also with cultures.






The Right to Freedom of Expression as a Collective as well as an Individual Right


My country- I come from Guatemala, as has been mentioned, it’s a very small country of 22 different languages and 22 different Mayan ethnic groups. But, that has been marked with discriminations for 500 years. So, I have been in the struggle for the demand of culture, and the expression of cultures of the native peoples.


This is why I have been always insisting that freedom of expression Number 1 has to be understood as an individual right, but also as a collective right, as a right of peoples. Freedom of expression of thought, of opinion, and of expression is the right to seek information, to have diversity of information, to have access to official information, to build your own opinion as an individual, and to express it.

But, at the same time, it is a collective right, where the people have the right to be informed, the people of the nation have the right to alternative media, or the people of the nation have the right to express their culture, their language, their values, and their traditions – all of these. It’s part of the freedom of expression.


The State has to Guarantee Every Single Citizen’s Right to Freedom of Expression


When we normally speak of our freedom of expression, people normally think about freedom of the press or the media only. I’m now thinking, all forms from art as an expression to media from journalists to community alternative means of communication, from written media to internet as an alternative, and access to alternative communication, where the East Asia is actually the vanguard in the world. So, I truly believe that there’s a lot to be done to establish this as a right, a fully exercised right. I also think that there’s somewhat a setback at the moment in the world.


When I began my mind, I did it with tremendous degree of enthusiasm. And one of the strongest criticism I had in June last year, in which I gave my first report to the human rights council, is that I had an excessively positive approach to the mandate. I don’t know how anyone can look, the title of the mandate is the protection and promotion of the right to freedom of expression, of course I have a positive approach, and I plan to, but not only a positive approach, but a proactive approach.


Freedom of speech is used to be understood before as the non-intervention of the state, as the lack of censorship, or as the protection of the journalists. But now, it has to be understood, like all human rights, that the state has a proactive role, that the state has to be the guarantor, which has to guarantee that every single person in its territory enjoy the full exercise of freedom of expression, in a proactive way. This means not only protecting the press- yes, I’m protecting the journalists – but it also means generating diversity in the media.


Monopoly of the Media should be Banned; Diversity Promoted and Guaranteed


And in that sense, it means combating monopolies, which have been growing in the world. The monopolies in the media really affects the right to diversity, which is one of the basic principles in diversity and pluralism of the opinion and freedom of expression. To build an opinion, the people of a country need to hear diverse approaches, diverse alternatives, and therefore monopolies are an obstacle to a full exercise of this right, and have to be banned. Monopolies have been banned for economic reasons, for unlawful competition, but now it has to be banned for freedom of expression approach as well.


Also, it’s very clear that we have to generate alternatives. I keep on mentioning the example of Argentina – I was in Argentina recently – I accompanied the president, Christina Fernandez, the current president of Argentina. She drafted at the initiative of civil society – and this was fantastic – They planned the document of 21 principles. They wanted to applied to the new telecommunications or broadcasting legislation, and she actually got a group of lawyers and presented legislation that establishes the need to distribute the frequencies of radio and television in three equal parts, 33.3 percent – for community broadcasting, for commercial broadcasting, and for public service broadcasting. I would not go as far, they’re going much further than I would go – not go as far as establishing percentage, I think each country is different. But I do like the principle, and I’m using this as an example that every single telecommunications legislation in the world should guarantee the three sectors.


The commercial sector, yes, but also the access of local communities, especially the most remote and impoverished communities, should have access to their own media. And the need to maintain the public service broadcasting, as a form of education, as a form of protection of the culture, the language and the traditions of a country. Commercial broadcasting does not do that. Therefore, there has to be a national public broadcasting system that guarantees that for the future. These three areas of telecommunications are crucial.


A Measure of Democracies


Also, we have been dealing with the internet and other alternative technology. I believe that the freedom of expression – I always say that – all the democracies are measured by the respect for the human rights, that is the measure of the democracy. But, the most democratical of all human rights is freedom of expression. Only truly democratic societies can fully guarantee this right to all the people in the nation. And, in this sense, the exercise to access to the Web, to the internet, to the cyber space is probably one of the most democratic exercises it can be.


Freedom of Expression as an Economic Right


The aspects of globalization could be understood differently. We’re in the world of financial crisis because of mistaken economic models that were globalized, but at the same time, the communications – there’s two issues that I always insist are very positive- the question of justice and the concept of justice that brought us to not only the world court of justice, but now also [to] the international criminal court, but also, the question of communication and access to communication that an individual own, which is one of the most active forms of participation and citizenship by anyone.


I believe that access to communication is not only the exercise of the freedom of expression or access to information which every individual citizen has, but I also think it’s a crucial necessity for any economic development plan if we are to develop economically all regions of the world and every single village, we need those communities to have access to the internet. Otherwise it will never be able to connect themselves to the national economic development programs or international possibilities. And therefore, I insist that access to communication is not only a civil liberty and right today as freedom of expression, but it also is an economic right because it’s part of right to development.


And I believe that all countries in the world – and this is one of the issues that I’m planning to propose to the human rights council, is that at a world-wide level, we should make an effort of establishing access to communication, to electronic communication first as one of the millenium goals, to be able to reach development goals. But secondly, I think it should be crucial that all states, or even at the UN or international levels, [we] establish fund and a research program that can enable countries to increase the access of the population to electronic communication means without the barriers of the economic costs that it has had up to now. I think that the more access we have to communication, the more democratic a society will become.


Defamation of the State or of Public Officials CANNOT be Justified


And let me say finally, that obviously, there’s pitfalls in this way, that ironically in the moment we’re talking about access to electronic communication, by the digital conversion of our means of communication, which gives opportunities many states to reserve frequencies, and that we’re talking about democratizing the world and justice around the world, at the same time, we have seen very preoccupied trend in some countries around the world to establish limitations to freedom of expression using criminal law or the legal framework. Some countries are interested in establishing defamation of religion, for instance, as a limitation.


I believe, as a religious person that I am, we should establish a culture of respect and we should all be respectful to all religions. But I don’t think respect can be gained by establishing a crime. I think religions are open to comments and criticisms like anything else. Defamation is a crime that exists only to protect persons, individuals, to protect the honor and reputation of persons. So, defamation of religion cannot be exercised to ban cartoons or to ban any comment. In the same way, defamation of the state cannot be used supposedly to protect state security. Or [in] the same way, you cannot use anti-terrorist legislation to limit freedom of expression. Anti-terrorist policies are correct and legitimate of any state to protect themselves and their citizens. But, not under that framework can politicians limit the criticism.


And here let me finish by saying that I believe – this is probably the most difficult point I’m putting across in the world – is that there should NEVER be a limitation to open opinion and comments on public officials and public policies, so there should NEVER be the possibility of a criminal action on defamation [of the state or of public officials] or even on civil lawsuit on defamation when it is in reference to a public officially exercised work or public mandate.

I believe that public office comes together with public scrutiny, and whoever accepts a public position understands he or she is under public scrutiny, which is called transparency. But also, public scrutiny comes in hand in hand with public criticism and every citizen can freely criticize or comment or compliment, if they want, any functionary or any public policy without the risk of suffering a lawsuit. This is important. I think this will be true measure of truly a democratic society in the future.


Thank you.



Speech dictated by Kim Sunggyoo (PSPD volunteer)


 

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