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Governments must pay more attention to people’s voices - UN experts

The following statement has been issued by a group of United Nations independent human rights experts*

GENEVA (3 February 2011) - “Recent events in several countries are an expression of the frustration felt by many individuals whose voices have been neglected or ignored by their own Governments.

Over the past several weeks, men and women in many countries, including Belarus, Egypt and Tunisia, have expressed grievances related to, among others, lack of employment opportunities and infringements on the right to an adequate standard of living, including the rights to food and housing, which have been exacerbated by the increasing cost of food and other basic commodities. They have also denounced the denial of their right to participate meaningfully in decision-making, underscoring the indivisibility of all human rights: civil, cultural, economic, political and social.

We are alarmed at increasing limitations on the right to freedom of expression and information imposed by Governments actively seeking to suppress the rising number of voices who wish to be heard. We are particularly concerned by ill-treatment and arbitrary arrests of protesters, journalists, human rights defenders and lawyers. We are disturbed at the major disruptions in communication networks and transmissions of news so essential to the modern world.

The freedoms of peaceful assembly and association are among the most fundamental rights underpinning a democratic society. We applaud the Human Rights Council for having confirmed this by creating a new human rights mechanism and look forward to the appointment of the expert who will be tasked to uphold these rights.

Notwithstanding this, we deeply deplore the tragic loss of lives and injuries as a result, in some cases, of the excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators. We urge Governments to abide by international standards, including those on the use of force and firearms. Prompt and impartial investigations into any related deaths or injuries are of the utmost importance to bring the perpetrators to justice and protect human rights under the rule of law is paramount.

As the recent turmoil has demonstrated, ignoring the root causes of such protests is unsustainable, and concerted, effective and prompt action must be taken domestically and internationally to provide an avenue for peaceful redress of human rights grievances, including the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. We stand ready to assist the respective countries in any appropriate manner.”

(*) The Independent Expert on human rights and extreme poverty, Magdalena Sepúlveda; the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue; the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya; the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul; the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan Méndez; the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns; and the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, El Hadji Malick Sow.

END

“Special procedures” is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Currently, there are 31 thematic and 8 country mandates, with 55 mandate holders. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights provides these mechanisms with support for the fulfillment of their mandates.

Note to journalists. Interviews can be arranged with the following experts:
Christoph Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (English)
El Hadji Malick Sow, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (French)
Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression (Spanish)

For more information and media requests, please contact Guillaume Pfeifflé (Tel.: + 41 22 917 9384 / email: gpfeiffle@ohchr.org).