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Donahoe: U.S. Honors the Role of a Free Press in Creating Sustainable Democracies, Prosperous Societies
June 19, 2012

Clustered Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion
and Expression and the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions

Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America
Delivered by Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe

Human Rights Council 20th Session


June 19, 2012

Thank you, Madame President.

The United States thanks Special Rapporteur La Rue for his laudable efforts to promote the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and Special Rapporteur Heyns for his work on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions.  We commend both Special Rapporteurs for their excellent reports and particularly their valuable focus on the protection of journalists and media freedom.

The United States honors the role of a free press in creating sustainable democracies and prosperous societies.  We pay special tribute to those journalists who have sacrificed their lives, freedom or personal well-being in pursuit of truth and justice.

The sacrifices journalists make in service to the words of the Universal Declaration – “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” – are painfully solemn.  According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, so far in 2012, 20 journalists have been killed and 179 are in prisons worldwide for doing their jobs.

One such imprisoned journalist is Mazen Darwish, who was arrested by Syrian authorities on February 16 and has been held incommunicado ever since in solitary confinement without charge or trial.  We reiterate our call for his immediate release, and the release of all journalists unjustly imprisoned around the world.

We agree with Special Rapporteur Heyns that unlawful attacks on journalists represent an assault on all human rights.  That is why our response to such injustices must be clear, unequivocal, and uncompromising.  Impunity for purposeful attacks on journalists and media freedom must be brought to an end. To this end, we agree with Special Rapporteur La Rue that the rule of law must be strengthened, and domestic legal frameworks and institutions must protect the right to freedom of expression and allow for the development of free and independent media.

Both Special Rapporteurs correctly observe that there are no gaps in international law on this issue – the challenge lies in implementation.

We applaud Special Rapporteur La Rue for focusing specifically on the perils of criminal defamation laws.  In recent years, we have seen an increase in prosecutions under such laws.  Journalists, bloggers, artists, activists, ordinary citizens – people of all backgrounds and opinions who peacefully exercised their right to freedom of expression – have been unjustly caught up in criminal defamation cases.

Special Rapporteur La Rue aptly described in his report the chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression such laws create, noting further that “criminal prosecution for defamation inevitably becomes a mechanism of political censorship, which contradicts freedom of expression and of the press.”  Such laws can also undermine national stability and security, driving a wedge between social groups and creating an environment of fear and distrust.  The U.S. government strongly believes that the decriminalization of defamation is good policy and urges all States to work toward the complete decriminalization of defamation.

Over the past year and half, we have witnessed the promise that media freedom holds for promoting freedom and democracy.  As Secretary Clinton has noted, “A free media is essential to democracy and it fosters transparency and accountability, both of which are prerequisites for sustained economic development.”  The free flow of information and ideas is a powerful force for progress – we must meet our obligations to protect that freedom.

We’d like to ask the Special Rapporteurs the following questions:

  • What specific steps would you recommend that States take to end impunity for attacks on journalists?
  • Have you done any analysis of whether States that aggressively utilize criminal defamation laws tend to have other restrictions on freedom of expression that are contrary to international law, and what form do these restrictions take?

Thank you Madame President.