U.S. Statement: Internet access and violence against women

Statement by the Delegation of the United States

Interactive Dialogue with the

Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and Violence Against Women

Delivered by Deputy Legal Adviser Anna Mansfield

Human Rights Council, Geneva

June 3, 2011

Thank you, Mr. President,

The United States thanks Special Rapporteur La Rue for his report.  We strongly support his affirmation of the freedom of opinion and expression as underpinning and protecting other human rights.  We appreciate his timely focus on access to electronic communications and freedom of expression on the Internet.  The dramatic events unfolding in North Africa, the Middle East and beyond highlight the importance of new communications tools for providing new avenues to exercise the freedom of expression, and allowing people everywhere to articulate their democratic aspirations.

As the report correctly states, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights were drafted with foresight to include technological developments through which individuals can exercise their right to freedom of expression.  This includes the freedom “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” providing the same strong protections for online speech as they do for offline speech.

We agree that “the right to freedom of expression includes expression of views and opinions that offend, shock or disturb,” and that legitimate restrictions on expression allowed under international human rights law are “few, exceptional and limited.”   The United States does not believe that there should be limitations on hate speech generally, unless it constitutes incitement to imminent violence.  We therefore support the concept that “there should be as little restriction as possible to the flow of information via the Internet.”

We strongly condemn the brutal methods used by some governments to silence dissent, and we are concerned by the report that in 2010, 109 bloggers were in prison on charges related to the content of their expression . We urge Member States to remove domestic legal provisions that improperly criminalize or otherwise improperly limit the freedom of expression.

States must ensure that Internet access is available, even during times of political unrest.  It is unacceptable for a government to suspend user accounts on social networking sites, or to cut off access entirely, for engaging in non-violent political speech. The United States encourages the Special Rapporteur to further examine the role of states in disabling national or regional Internet access for political reasons.

We are also concerned with the Special Rapporteur’s report of increasing denial of service attacks on civil society.  We urge Member States to adopt measures to prevent such acts, and to hold those responsible to account.

The United States suggests that the Special Rapporteur expand his inquiry on the influence of governments over communications companies.  We would be interested in a study of whether governments are improperly requiring corporations to censor content and to participate in surveillance and monitoring of citizens, as a condition for operating a business in the country.

Mr. President,

We appreciate the report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences, promoting a holistic approach to addressing violence against women and multiple forms of discrimination against women.  In this report Special Rapporteur Manjoo has continued to highlight that there is much left to do, to ultimately prevent violence against women.

The United States is committed to reducing and ultimately eliminating violence against women, as discussed in our earlier statement.

The Special Rapporteur notes that in combating violence against women, there is no one size fits all approach.  In this context, we urge member states to tackle the problem in multiple ways, from empowering civil society to adopting non-discrimination legislation to vigorously investigating and prosecuting cases of violence against women.

We have one follow up question:

You mention that UN Women has the lead in coordinating UN efforts to protect and promote women’s rights, and that that body should integrate a holistic approach.  What recommendations do you have for how the Human Rights Council can coordinate its work with that of UN Women?

 

 

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