UN HR Rapporteur denied access to Sri Lanka since June 2009 - Sri Lanka Guardian

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Sunday, July 31, 2011

UN HR Rapporteur denied access to Sri Lanka since June 2009


The report identified Sri Lanka, part of a group comprising Iran, Tunisia and Venezuela, as a country to which the Special Rapporteur had made a visit request which is still pending from June 2009. Also noted in the report, freedom of opinion and expression was an "'enabler' of other rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to education and the right to take part in cultural life and to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, as well as civil and political rights, such as the rights to freedom of association and assembly. Thus, by acting as a catalyst for individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Internet also facilitates the realisation of a range of other human rights."

by Jagdish Hathiramani

(July 31, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Internet is the "key means by which individuals can exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, as guaranteed by article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," according to a report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, which was submitted to the body's Human Rights Council recently.

The report identified Sri Lanka, part of a group comprising Iran, Tunisia and Venezuela, as a country to which the Special Rapporteur had made a visit request which is still pending from June 2009.

Also noted in the report, freedom of opinion and expression was an "'enabler' of other rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to education and the right to take part in cultural life and to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, as well as civil and political rights, such as the rights to freedom of association and assembly. Thus, by acting as a catalyst for individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Internet also facilitates the realisation of a range of other human rights."

It also added that "the advent of Web 2.0 services, or intermediary platforms that facilitate participatory information sharing and collaboration in the creation of content, individuals are no longer passive recipients, but also active publishers of information. Such platforms are particularly valuable in countries where there is no independent media, as they enable individuals to share critical views and to find objective information."

Further, concern was expressed about emerging trends in limiting, or even outright blocking, access to the Internet and stated that the "distinctive features of the Internet that enable individuals to disseminate information in 'real time' and to mobilise people has also created fear amongst governments and the powerful. This has led to increased restrictions on the Internet through the use of increasingly sophisticated technologies to block content, monitor and identify activists and critics, criminalisation of legitimate expression, and adoption of restrictive legislation to justify such measures."

While accepting that there were some, often exceptional, situations where blocking websites, etc. was warranted, such as to curb child pornography, the report also noted that "in many instances, states restrict, control, manipulate and censor content disseminated via the Internet without any legal basis, or on the basis of broad and ambiguous laws, without justifying the purpose of such actions; and/or in a manner that is clearly unnecessary and/or disproportionate to achieving the intended aim."

Further, that "due to the unique characteristics of the Internet, regulations or restrictions which may be deemed legitimate and proportionate for traditional media are often not so with regard to the Internet. For example, in cases of defamation of individuals’ reputation, given the ability of the individual concerned to exercise his/her right of reply instantly to restore the harm caused, the types of sanctions that are applied to offline defamation may be unnecessary or disproportionate... Similarly, while the protection of children from inappropriate content may constitute a legitimate aim, the availability of software filters that parents and school authorities can use to control access to certain content renders action by the Government such as blocking less necessary, and difficult to justify."

It also suggested that "restriction on the right of individuals to express themselves through the Internet can take various forms, from technical measures to prevent access to certain content, such as blocking and filtering, to inadequate guarantees of the right to privacy and protection of personal data, which inhibit the dissemination of opinions and information. The Special Rapporteur is of the view that the arbitrary use of criminal law to sanction legitimate expression constitutes one of the gravest forms of restriction to the right, as it not only creates a 'chilling effect', but also leads to other human rights violations, such as arbitrary detention and torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

Also added, "specific conditions that justify blocking are not established in law, or are provided by law but in an overly broad and vague manner, which risks content being blocked arbitrarily and excessively." In addition, "even where justification is provided, blocking measures constitute an unnecessary or disproportionate means to achieve the purported aim, as they are often not sufficiently targeted and render a wide range of content inaccessible beyond that which has been deemed illegal."

The report also opined that "types of action taken by states to limit the dissemination of content online not only include measures to prevent information from reaching the end-user, but also direct targeting of those who seek, receive and impart politically sensitive information via the Internet. Physically silencing criticism or dissent through arbitrary arrests and detention, enforced disappearance, harassment and intimidation is an old phenomenon, and also applies to Internet users... Such actions are often aimed not only to silence legitimate expression, but also to intimidate a population to push its members towards self-censorship." 

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