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Item 3 General Debate Intervention on Freedom of Expression
June 4, 2013

Item 3 General Debate Intervention

Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America
to the UN Human Rights Council

At the 23rd Session of the Human Rights Council
June 4, 2013

Thank you, Mr. President.

At this session, the United States, as part of a broad cross-regional group, is proposing a resolution that stresses the importance of freedom of expression, especially as it relates to women’s empowerment.

Respect for freedom of opinion and expression plays a fundamental role in the ability of women to interact with society at large, in particular in the realms of economic and political participation.

We have seen, time and again, that when citizens are able to express themselves freely and without fear of reprisal or retribution, societies reap the benefits, including greater economic prosperity, societal innovation, and ethnic and religious harmony.  Governments that violate freedom of expression impede societal progress, producing consequences that include poverty, economic stagnation, inflamed ethnic or religious tensions, and unrest among citizens who are prevented from fully participating in their societies or governments.

Women’s participation in the political, economic, and social spheres is often particularly limited by undue restrictions on their right to freedom of expression. Discrimination, intimidation, harassment and violence often prevent women and girls from fully enjoying their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including their right to freedom of opinion and expression.  We recognize the critical importance of women’s participation in all contexts, and their essential contributions to the achievement of peace and development.

Freedom of expression is inextricably linked to other freedoms we consider essential, including the freedom of religion and belief.  Freedom of expression allows us to engage in informed discourse on important issues before us in our own nations, and also allows us to work together to solve global challenges.

Freedom of expression is crucial for reaping the benefits of the Internet, which has fast become a space for innovative collaboration.

To ensure that we properly harness the transformative power of the Internet, we must ensure that the universal human rights that governments are obligated to respect in the offline world are equally protected online.  We have seen that threats to Internet freedom are growing in number and complexity.  Governments that block websites, censor search results, imprison journalists and activists, and impose laws that unduly restrict online discourse and the ability to seek information rob their citizens of their fundamental freedom of expression.  We encourage these states to reverse these measures and respect their human rights obligations, in order to prevent the societal ills we have seen accompany the suppression of freedom of expression.

In this regard, we reiterate our support for HRC Resolution 20/8 and join the statement by Sweden on this topic.