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Clustered dialogue on right to freedom of opinion and expression and peaceful assembly and association

During the 29th Session of the Human Rights Council, the UK delivered a statement during the clustered interactive dialogue with the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on the promotion and the protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and on the rights to peaceful assembly and association.

Read 'Interactive Dialogue on Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression and Peaceful Assembly and Association' article
The Human Rights Council takes place in the Room XX of the Palais des Nations, Geneva. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferre

Thank you Mr. President.

The United Kingdom would like to voice strong support for the work of the Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and Freedom of Assembly and Association.

Technology is transforming the way we interact, the way we share our thoughts and the way we organise ourselves. The UK strongly supports the principle that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression. It is therefore important that the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression has identified and considered in depth the role the internet plays in the sharing of ideas and information and the ability to hold and express opinions. As his report says, without the ability to receive information, the ability to form an opinion or idea is undermined.

We recognise the importance encryption can play in protecting human rights defenders, especially those who are at risk from expressing views in states which use surveillance for purposes of political repression.

When states need to carry out surveillance for the purposes of national security and protecting the safety of their citizens, this should be done in accordance with the rule of law and in a transparent and non-arbitrary manner governed by effective oversight.

The UK has been a strong supporter of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Special Rapporteur has rightly highlighted the role that these Principles can play in supporting freedom of association and assembly. We support his call for companies to conduct due diligence in respect of human rights and to carry out human rights impact assessments.

There is a duty on States to enable their citizens to fully realise their rights. This means there needs to be space for civil society to operate, so that citizens can cultivate these rights, share ideas and take an active part in the life of their nation. However it is with considerable alarm that we see a growing number of countries seeking to limit this space and impede the work of NGOs. These laws clearly endanger the means to exercise the rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression.

Could the Special Rapporteurs comment on the impact of States shutting off access to all or part of the internet, on their citizens ability to fully realise their rights?

Could the Special Rapporteurs comment on the impact of laws in countries that seek to limit civil society space?

Thank you Mr. President.

Published 18 June 2015