Surveillance of Communications Must Never be Conducted without Independent Judicial Oversight – Unless it is to Respond to National Security Threats

privacy

privacy (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

#AceSecurityNews says a draft resolution to protect the right to privacy in the digital age that was approved this week by a General Assembly committee is a first step, according to an independent UN expert who called for more to be done to ensure trust in the safety of communications.

“If States are truly committed to ensuring that all the rights which apply offline continue to be valid online, they urgently need to take concrete steps to secure respect for the privacy of communications as a universal right everywhere – not only within their own borders,” the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, <“http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14033&LangID=E“>said in a news release yesterday.

The General Assembly committee dealing with human rights questions, also known as the Third Committee, on Tuesday unanimously approved the text recognizing the need for States to establish oversight mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability for surveillance initiatives. The 193-member Assembly is expected to vote on the non-binding resolution next month.

“To demonstrate their commitment to protect privacy and to ensure people can communicate freely, States can start by immediately revising their own laws and the role of the judiciary, in order to correct serious gaps that exist in most national legal frameworks,” said Mr. La Rue.

He emphasized that the surveillance of communications must never be conducted without independent judicial oversight, even though it might be exceptionally required to monitor communications in order to respond to criminal activity or national security threats.

Parliaments should also play a role through the systematic review of the work of security and intelligence entities.

Human Rights

Human Rights (Photo credit: h de c)

Blanket and indiscriminate surveillance should never be legal,” Mr. La Rue stressed. “International human rights standards demand that any interference with human rights be considered on a case-by-case basis in which a court weighs the proportionality of the benefit to be gained against the harm which may be done.”

Despite technological changes, the expert felt that no new international legal instruments are needed. “Privacy is a recognized human right. For decades there has been a solid understanding that privacy in postal services should be respected by all States. Therefore, there are no reasons for questioning existing guarantees to privacy in telephone or internet communications,” he said.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Genevabased UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

 

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Independent Experts Recently Voiced Serious Concern Over Reports That Chinese Activists Have Been Intimidated and Prevented From Taking Part in a Major Assessment of the Human Rights Situation in the Country

United Nations Human Rights Council logo.

United Nations Human Rights Council logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

#AceWorldNews says United Nations independent experts recently voiced serious concern over reports that Chinese activists have been intimidated and prevented from taking part in a major assessment of the human rights situation in the country.

“Intimidating civil society members who seek to contribute to such an important international dialogue is completely unacceptable,” said the Geneva-based experts in a <“http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13860&LangID=E“>news release. “Ensuring the free participation of civil society actors, including human rights defenders, and other national stakeholders, in this process is crucial.”

Activists have reportedly been threatened, arrested or banned from leaving China in the run-up to the second assessment of the country’s record by the UN Human Rights Council through its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism. The review will take place on 22 October 2013 in Geneva.

“These cases seem part of a pattern of increased harassment by China of those calling for greater accountability of public officials, transparency and political and legal reforms,” the experts said.

The experts received information that rights defenders Cao Shunli and Chen Jianfang were allegedly prevented from boarding flights to Geneva where they were due to participate in activities organized on the margins of a Human Rights Council session in September.

Chen Jianfang was reportedly told that she was barred from travelling abroad for life, while Cao Shunli was detained by Chinese security authorities on 14 September. Cao Shunli’s family has allegedly not received any formal notification of her detention.

It was also reported that Chinese civil society activists, who have demonstrated since June to defend their right to participate and receive information on China’s report to the UPR, have been threatened by local authorities on various occasions.

Znak graficzny UPR Eurowybory 2009

Znak graficzny UPR Eurowybory 2009 (Photo credit: Unia Polityki Realnej)

“These reports suggest there have been acts of reprisals against people who seek to cooperate with the UN,” said Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya.

“Defenders play a key role in holding States to account for the implementation of their human rights obligations, including at the international level. Their legitimate work should be fully respected.”

China accepted recommendations made during its first review in 2009 to strengthen its engagement with civil society to promote and protect human rights. The Government informed the UN experts that non-governmental organizations were consulted ahead of the UPR session and that the draft of the national report was available on its official website for comments.

Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, said that even if some organizations had participated in the UPR preparations, “nothing can justify excluding legitimate voices through intimidation.”

“Access to information and an open space for the free exchange of opinions and ideas are essential to ensure a proper review of the human rights record of any country,” Mr. La Rue stressed.

Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kai said preventing people to participate in the UPR and from demonstrating peacefully constitutes a breach of China’s international obligations to respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

“This obligation includes facilitating peaceful protests by providing protestors with access to public space, and protecting them, where necessary, against any threats,” he said.

Regarding the situation of Ms. Cao, the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances underlined that information on her detention, including the reasons and place of detention, should be made ready to avail to her family members and counsel.

The experts have also asked the Chinese authorities for further information regarding these allegations and called for the immediate release of all those detained after peacefully protesting for more civil society participation in the UPR process and advocating for human rights and good governance.

“These serious allegations must be investigated thoroughly and impartially by the Chinese authorities,” the experts concluded.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.

 

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