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Press briefing notes on Egypt

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Subjects: 1) Egypt
Date: 2 July 2013

1) Egypt

We are following with great concern the extremely tense situation in Egypt and wish to convey a strong message of solidarity and support to the Egyptian people.

As you know, the High Commissioner has, ever since the first stirrings of protest back in January 2011, consistently supported the Egyptian people’s rights to freedom of expression and assembly, while calling on all sides to resolve their differences peacefully and refrain from resorting to violence.

We urge the Egyptian government to continue to make every effort to protect the rights of citizens to engage in peaceful protests and demonstrations. We regret the deaths that have occurred in Egypt since Sunday, and stress that any perpetrators of attacks against peaceful demonstrators, who are found to have used excessive force, should be held accountable.

We urge all political parties and social groups to urgently engage in a serious national dialogue in order to find a solution to the political crisis and prevent an escalation of violence. We call on the President of Egypt to listen to the demands and wishes of the Egyptian people, expressed during these huge protests over the past few days, and to address key issues raised by the opposition and civil society in recent months, as well as to heed the lessons of the past in this particularly fragile situation.

We welcome public assurances made by the law enforcement agencies and the military that no measures will be taken that could lead to excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators.

In response to a question about mass surveillance programmes and human rights:

Of relevance to the current debates on methods of mass surveillance, is article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)*. This prohibits States from interfering with the privacy of those within their jurisdiction. It requires them to protect those persons by law against arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy. In other words, any act which has an impact on a person’s privacy must be lawful. This means that any search, surveillance or collection of data about a person must be authorized by law. The extent to which this occurs must not be arbitrary, which in turn requires that the legislation must not be unjust, unpredictable or unreasonable.

In its General Comment 16**, the Human Rights Committee -- the body which oversees the application of the ICCPR -- has noted that article 17 of the Covenant imposes specific obligations relating to the protection of privacy in communications, underlining that “correspondence should be delivered without interception and without being opening or otherwise read. Surveillance, whether electronic or otherwise, interceptions of telephonic, telegraphic and other forms of communication, wire-tapping and recording of conversations, should be prohibited. “The Committee further has stated that “the gathering and holding of personal information on computers, data banks and other devices, whether by public authorities or private individuals or bodies, must be regulated by law.”

Also of particular relevance, in his report to the most recent session of the Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression analysed the implications of States’ surveillance of communications on the exercise of the rights to privacy, and to freedom of opinion and expression. The report underlines the “urgent need to further study new modalities of surveillance and to revise laws regulating these practices in line with human rights standards.”

In his report, the Special Rapporteur said that: “States cannot ensure that individuals are able to freely seek and receive information or express themselves without respecting, protecting and promoting their right to privacy. Privacy and freedom of expression are interlinked and mutually dependent; an infringement upon one can be both the cause and consequence of an infringement upon the other. Without adequate legislation and legal standards to ensure the privacy, security and anonymity of communications, journalists, human rights defenders and whistleblowers, for example, cannot be assured that their communications will not be subject to States’ scrutiny.” (Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, A/HRC/23/40, para 79***).

*To access the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights please go to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CCPR.aspx

**The Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No. 16 is available here: http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(Symbol)/23378a8724595410c12563ed004aeecd?Opendocument

***To see the report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, on the implications of States’ surveillance of communications on the exercise of the human rights to privacy and to freedom of opinion and expression (17 April 2013), please go to:
http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session23/A.HRC.23.40_EN.pdf

ENDS

For further information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 or + 41 79 506 1088 / rcolville@ohchr.org); Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 or +41 79 618 3430 / cpouilly@ohchr.org) or Liz Throssell (+ 41 22 917 9434 / ethrossell@ohchr.org)

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