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Communiqué of Special Procedures mandate holders on Human Rights Day: Complementary opinion by several mandate holders

GENEVA (21 December 2016) – Three Special Procedures mandate holders* consider it appropriate to issue an opinion complementary to the communiqué which was published in the name of special procedures mandate holders on 9 December on the occasion of Human Rights Day.

“We call on the international community and specially on human rights mechanisms world-wide to engage in a constructive debate so as to identify objectively problems that affect the enjoyment of human rights by billions human beings -- including the right to development, to food security, to clean water and sanitation, to education, to sovereign debt restructuring. Likewise odious debt, crushing “austerity measures”, unilateral coercive measures, war or other violent action, whether by States or by non-State actors are issues of real concern as we stand on the threshold of the New Year.

Human Rights Day commemoration is also an occasion to endorse mechanisms to provide recourse and remedy to victims of human rights violations, to advance the idea of a human right to peace, to the proactive State protection of the family as the natural and fundamental group unit of society, to defend the right to privacy, culture and identity.  We should not forget those who continue to suffer tragically from the denial of the right to self-determination, and those who endure war and occupation.

We must warn against war propaganda (prohibited in article 20(1) ICCPR), the persecution and prosecution of whistle-blowers.  Nor can we remain silent on the on-going discrimination and murder of persons suffering from albinism, the persecution of Christian and of other religious minorities in the Middle-East and of Muslim minorities in South East Asia and elsewhere, on the impunity of non-state actors and transnational corporations for major human rights violations, including the destruction of the environment (ecocide).

The signatories consider that SPs should aspire at being the conscience of the Human Rights Council and observe a holistic approach to all human rights, aiming at the prevention of violations and not only at reacting post hoc.  It is our function to identify the root causes of violations, so that we can better prevent them.  It is not helpful to condemn “populism” if one is not willing to recognize that populists are merely filling the vacuum left by governments that for decades have been insensitive to the needs of the people, who have continued “business as usual”, and not listened.

It is easy to condemn social phobias of which a fashionable few only are usually brought out, but there is need henceforth to cover the attacks on the broad range of internationally recognised minorities whose members are known to suffer shockingly across the world.  Empathy for victims should not be selective. There is need also to reflect on the reasons for those multiple phobias, offering guidance as to how to defuse them in a manner consistent with human rights and human dignity.

Furthermore, care must be taken not to legitimize language that can be misused by those who want to destroy human rights by invoking other human rights. It is thus not desirable to denounce “hate speech” without pointing out normative dangers, since  some national legislation are developing into a major threat to democratic discourse and are being misused by numerous states to intimidate dissenters, threatening them with penal sanctions and engendering an anti-democratic chilling effect. The “hate speech” motive as well as the suppression of dissent under other motives is fostering the development of a new “franchise” for ostracism and sanctions.  The claim that dissent jeopardizes an entity, whether it be a State, a social group or a professional community, is in essence totalitarian unless the dissenters’ views have been previously discussed with them in search of a compromise expression of a common position.

Incitement to violence must, of course, be combated, but it is necessary for this purpose to clearly define what “hate speech” and what “incitement” mean, hence the necessity to scrupulously protect freedom of expression as laid down in article 19(1)&(2) of ICCPR and respect the very narrow grounds for imposing limitations envisaged in article 19(3).  Interpretation of “hate speech” cannot be left to the discretion of governments and prosecutors, as this would open the door to arbitrariness contrary to the rule of law and tantamount to censorship.  Article 20(2) ICCPR, which prohibits certain types of advocacy leading to discrimination and violence, is an important provision, but it must be read in conjunction with article 19 ICCPR as a whole and with the Committee's general comment 34 on freedom of opinion and expression, and the relevant jurisprudence on the protection of privacy, religious convictions and the right to access to information.

We therefore appeal to the international community to recommit, on the occasion of the New Year 2017, to upholding all human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 10 December 1948 and in all related Covenants and Treatises.  Indeed all these rights are inter-related, inter-dependent and equally deserving of support. There is no priority to be established between them. As proclaimed in the Vienna Declaration of 25 June 1993 on Human Rights: “The international community must treat human rights globally, in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing and with the same emphasis.”

*This statement was signed by The Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas; the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, Ms. Ikponwosa Ero; and the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, Mr. Idriss Jazairy.


The Independent Experts and Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. For more information, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx

For more information and media requests, please write to: ie-internationalorder@ohchr.org, ucm@ohchr.org or albinism@ohchr.org 

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