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Rising trend of violating freedom of expression and political rights, UN Human Rights Committee finds

29 February 2024

GENEVA (29 February 2024) – The UN Human Rights Committee found that the number of individual complaints brought before them has reached an all-time high, with increasing patterns of violations of freedom of expression and political rights. The Committee anticipated a further surge in such cases this year, the biggest election year in history.

There are currently 1,321 individual complaints under the Committee’s consideration, with 268 new cases registered in 2023, a steady increase in the last five years. The Human Rights Committee is mandated to receive and consider complaints from individuals or groups of individuals claiming to be victims of a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by a State party, according to the Optional Protocol.

The Committee considered 54 cases in the most recent session in November 2023, bringing to 163 the total number of cases considered in 2023, covering wide-ranging issues, including arbitrary detention, linguistic rights, electoral rights, right to a fair trial, freedom of expression, right to peaceful assembly, forced eviction, and home schooling, filed by individuals from 20 States parties. The Committee found violations in 22 cases, comprising seven cases about freedom of expression or right of peaceful assembly and another four concerning political rights.

“From these complaints, we see a disturbing development that States parties are progressively tightening the civic space for people to express their demands and participate in peaceful assemblies,” said Tania Abdo Rocholl, Chair of the Committee.

In the first-ever case concerning freedom of expression under Belarus’ Law on Countering Extremism, the Committee found a violation by Belarus of the right of the complainant, who had been prosecuted for sharing a link to an online article on his social media profile page. The Committee noted that the article was initially published on a public platform, which was declared by a local court to contain extremist materials. The Committee considered that the lack of individual assessment of the article with respect to national security or public safety, and the automatic reliance on the court’s decision declaring all materials on the platform as extremist amounted to a violation of the right to freedom of expression.

In a case brought against Kyrgyzstan by the editor-in-chief of an internet news portal, who was sued for publishing an article reproducing a third party’s speech criticising the then Kyrgyzstan President, the Committee held that the threshold of protecting officials and public figures from defamation must be balanced against the importance of the information for public debate.

“There has also been an uptick in the number of complaints regarding opposition candidates being disqualified or even arrested by the authorities to stop them from running elections,” Abdo Rocholl said, adding, “Shoving off candidates from the ballots based on their opinions is a blatant violation of their political rights.”

In a complaint filed against Belarus by Viktar Babaryka, a Presidential candidate for the 2020 elections, the Committee found that his arrest while en route to submitting the signatures for his presidential candidacy, his lack of access to a lawyer, and the lack of a prompt trial before a judge, all violated his right not to be arbitrarily detained.

In another group of cases against Kazakhstan, the Committee considered that the disqualification of candidates should not be allowed unless based on objective and reasonable grounds while ensuring due process to the candidates.

With about half the world’s population - some 4 billion people in over 70 countries - going to cast their votes this year, the biggest in history, the Committee would likely be seized with more such complaints and others.

“To address the large number of cases pending decision, we will continue to join considerations of cases raising similar issues,” Abdo Rocholl stated.

The Summary of Decisions and all case files are now available on the session webpage.

For more information and media requests in Geneva, please contact:
Vivian Kwok at [email protected]
UN Human Rights Office Media Section at [email protected]

The Human Rights Committee monitors States parties’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which to date has been ratified by 174 States parties. The Committee is made up of 18 members who are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties.

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