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Israel / OPT: UN expert calls for freedom of expression for minority views and dissenting opinions

JERUSALEM / GENEVA (19 December 2011) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue urged* the authorities of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory to lift all restrictions to freedom of expression, stressing that “truly democratic societies are measured by their respect of human rights, and in particular the right to freedom of expression as a ‘facilitator’ of all other rights.”

“Freedom of expression does not only include expression of views that are widely accepted by the majority of the population or reflect the Government’s policies, but also minority views and dissenting opinions,” he said at the end of a 12-day fact-finding mission to Gaza, the West Bank and Israel. “The right to freedom of expression only becomes a reality if everyone has equal opportunity to enjoy it.”

This right includes the right to seek and receive information and ideas of all kinds, including through access to information held by public bodies, and freely to impart and disseminate any information, ideas or opinions, whether it is through speech, critical writing, art, peaceful demonstrations, cultural expressions, or public religious celebrations.

Occupied Palestinian Territory
The Special Rapporteur visited Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from 6 to 11 December.

Noting that some 20 persons have died in protests in the West Bank since 2003, the expert called for prompt and effective investigation of the Israeli Defense Forces’ activities to prevent impunity. “Impunity generates a climate of fear, which hinders the ability of individuals to effectively exercise their right to freedom of expression through peaceful assemblies.”

Mr. La Rue urged the Government of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the de facto authorities in Gaza to facilitate all journalists’ right to freedom of movement. He also noted that the right to freedom of movement of human rights defenders is crucial for their work to gather and disseminate information on human rights violations.

“In Gaza, I was informed of the trend of arbitrary arrests and overnight detention of journalists and human rights defenders by the security agencies of the de facto authorities, which has an intimidating effect and leads to self-censorship,” he said noting also a new practice requiring foreign journalists to name a local contact prior to entering Gaza. “This encourages visiting journalists to apply self-censorship, and thus I would recommend that this practice be abolished.”

“Sections of textbooks used in Palestinian schools, which follow the Palestinian curriculum in East Jerusalem, have been censored by the Israeli Ministry of Education,” he said. “Palestinians in East Jerusalem should be able to maintain, express and impart their version of historical events.”

Israel
The Special Rapporteur visited Israel from 12 to 17 December 2011.

Mr. La Rue expressed his concern regarding the post of a Chief Censor in Israel, stressing that while every State has the right to protect its national security and to keep certain information confidential from the public, a body for prior censorship of the press should not exist in any country.

The independent expert also drew attention to restrictive legislation which contravenes international standards on the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This includes three laws which have already been adopted, namely the so-called Nakba law, the foreign finding law, and the anti-boycott law; as well as the bill on the amendment to the law of defamation.

The Special Rapporteur urged the Israeli authorities to facilitate and fully guarantee the right to freedom of expression through their own media of the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, who comprise approximately 20 per cent of the population. He also called for Arab Members of Knesset to be allowed to exercise their right to freedom of expression in all its forms, without being deprived of parliamentary privileges.

During the first official visit to the region by an independent expert charged by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. La Rue met with senior Government officials, representatives of civil society, lawyers, human rights defenders, and journalists in East Jerusalem, Ramallah, Nabi-Saleh, Gaza, West Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Be’er Sheva and other surrounding villages in the Negev desert.

The Special Rapporteur will present his findings and recommendations in his report to the Human Rights Council in June 2012.

Frank La Rue was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in August 2008 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any Government or organization and serves in his individual capacity.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement by the Special Rapporteur: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=11727&LangID=E

For further information on the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/OpinionIndex.aspx

OHCHR Country Page – Occupied Palestinian Territories: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/MENARegion/Pages/PSIndex.aspx

OHCHR Country Page – Israel: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/ILIndex.aspx

For press inquiries and additional information on the Special Rapporteur’s mission, please contact Ms. Momoko Nomura (Mobile: +41 79 752 0483 / Mnomura@ohchr.org) or write to freedex@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, OHCHR Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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