MOOC FOE1x | 2.8.1 The Middle East and Asia-Pacific | International Norms on Freedom of Expression

MOOC FOE1x | 2.8.1 The Middle East and Asia-Pacific | International Norms on Freedom of Expression

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– We have now reviewed
how an international human rights system of protection for freedom of expression
has been established over the last 60 years or so. It includes convention and mechanisms for their implementation at both international and regional level. Regional human rights system are essential to international human rights protection and to that of freedom of
expression in particular. Indeed they have been, by a large extent, the main driver for the protection
of freedom of expression. Unfortunately, as of
now only three regions may be said to have in place effective regional human rights system, Europe, the Americas and Africa. Asia, which would be a continent and the Middle East are lagging behind the rest of the world
indeed by several decades. Some timid steps have been taken which I’m gonna highlight briefly in this concluding segment. In the Middle East, the
League of Arab States adopted the Arab Charter
of Human Rights in 2004. It also established the Arab Committee of Human Rights in 2009 to support the implementation of the Arab Charter. Unfortunately the charter is largely inconsistent with
international human rights standard, for instance, Article 30 of the charter allows for the imposition of limitations on freedom of thought, conscience and religion if
these are provided by law. You may recall that
under the international and regional system
largely freedom of thought and conscience cannot be derogated, they are just unconditional. The charter also guarantees the right to seek, receive and impart information provided these rights are exercised, and I quote, “in conformity with “the fundamental values of society.” Now this is an expression which you don’t find in any other international instrument and it is so
broad and so imprecise in its meaning that for many observers and indeed people in the region itself, it loses its meaning as
far as the protection of freedom of expression is concerned. As far as the committee itself, critics of (mumbles) the lack of
independence of the members of that human rights
committee and basically its inability to play
the role it should play which is to enforce human
rights implementation. In Asia Pacific there is only one really subregional instrument
which was established by the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations, also known under its second name as ASEAN. This is a grouping of 10 nation states, namely Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, and that was founded in 1967, so it’s quite old already. It’s only in 2012 that the ASEAN adopted a declaration of human rights and within a minute of its adoption the declaration was altogether decried and rejected by the international
community, civil society and observers, member states
of the United Nations. Just to give you some example, the general principles within the
ASEAN human rights charter includes balancing the
enjoyment of fundamental rights with government
imposed duties on individuals. It subject the realization of human rights to regional and national context and to broaden all emcompassing
limitations on rights, including rights that
should not be restricted. Similarly, the ASEAN has also established a body responsible for overseeing the implementation of its human rights commitment but again, so far it has failed to deliver any tangible
benefits for human rights. But of course both Asia
and the Middle East are part of and accountable to the international human rights system so their respect for freedom of expression and information and trying in Article 19 of the UDHR and Article 19 of the ICCPR apply to the state of those two regions and to the people of those regions in the same way that it
applies to other regions. What have we learned this week? Freedom of expression is a
fundamental human rights. It is recognized by
international and regional human rights convention
binding on member state. The ICCPR and the UDHR,
the European convention on human rights binding on
Europe, the InterAmerican Convention on Human Rights
for the member states of that region and the African charter for peoples and human rights
binding on African member state. These five international human rights text define freedom of
expression and information more or less using the same
words and in the same terms. It is a freedom to
seek, receive and impart information and ideas in any
form regardless of frontiers. Four of them identify narrow
limits to the exercise of their rights, limits
which are also, more or less, framed in similar termed. Those limits must be defined in law necessary to a democratic society and on the basis of eligible grounds. This is a most fundamental framework upon which restriction
to freedom of expression is based and it’s very important, the three part test is
of fundamental importance to the freedom of expression. The principle driving the recognition and protection of freedom of expression are more or less common
to all four instruments. There is a never again driver. That is in the preamble of the UDHR and I think it is very much at the heart of all of those human rights project. We never want to see massacres. We never want to see the drama of World War II, the
suffering, the killings. Of course the reality is different but this is the aspiration, never again. That is also true for
freedom of expression as I have highlighted
in a previous segment. The centrality of freedom of expression for the entire human rights project and vision is also very much part of both international and
regional approach to it. Freedom of information is a fundamental human rights, it is a
touchstone of all the freedom, it’s essential to the realization of all other rights, these are the kind of expression that you
are finding currently throughout the international human rights system whether at international
level or at regional level. It means that freedom of
expression and information are a means of determining how far rights and freedom in general are respected. It is a mean to which those
rights can also be exercised. Then we’ve also seen the
importance of freedom of expression and freedom of the media to an effective democracy. That was also central
both to the international system and to the regional system. Without freedom of expression, without free media, there is no
democracy, there is no public opinion, there
is no political parties, there is no ability of the public to understand what their
leaders are thinking, what their leaders are doing, there is no democracy and indeed there
is no proper governance. That too is very much central to the construction of the protection of freedom of expression in all three
regions and internationally. Then there are some
specificities, in the Americas it will be an insistence that there is a collective right to
freedom of expression, that it is not just about
the right of the self but it’s also about the
right of the society to hear and listen, the information. Then in the context of
Europe there is this insistence that freedom of expression also include the freedom to
offend and freedom to shock because without that freedom there is no proper debate and there
is no proper democracy. So throughout those
regions you are finding specificities to freedom of expression which, in fact, then become cited outside their original region of birth and become part of the
overall normative system which is part of our system of protection for freedom of expression. Next week, we will
analyze in greater detail the scope of freedom of
expression and the limits to freedom of expression. This will include unpacking the three part test of legality, necessity
and eligible grounds, as well as looking into another limit to freedom of expression,
that of Article 20 of the ICCPR related to
incitement to violence and discrimination. In the meantime, please
enjoy your readings, please listen to the additional videos, and I will see you next time.

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