» UNESCO addressed 2nd Freedom Online Conference in Kenya
07.09.2012 - Communication & Information Sector

UNESCO addressed 2nd Freedom Online Conference in Kenya

Left to right: UNESCO's Guy Berger and Lydiah Kiniti attending 2nd Freedom Online Conference – © UNESCO

UNESCO participated in the 2nd Freedom Online Conference held in Kenya on 6 and 7 September 2012. The event follows the inaugural conference hosted in the Netherlands in December 2011, which launched a multi-country alliance for Internet freedom.

UNESCO has been actively engaged with the Freedom Online Coalition which currently has 17 member countries from across Europe, Asia, United States and Africa. The movement aims to facilitate a global dialogue about the responsibilities of governments in pro-actively furthering freedom on the Internet.

In his closing remarks and speech addressed on the Panel session 1: Censorship vs freedom of expression, assembly and association at the 2nd Freedom Online Conference, Mr Guy Berger, Director of Freedom of Expression and Media Development of UNESCO, reiterated UNESCO’s firm commitment to promoting freedom of expression on Internet as a global responsibility.

He pointed out that freedom of expression is not only a human right, but also an entitlement that helps the development interests of a country. The emphasis should be on advancing the right and the opportunities it offered, for example by improving access to the Internet, and not on problems and exceptions to the norm.

“States should be emphasizing the obligation of the state as described by the UN Human Rights Committee, in its General Comment number 34 on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which is to protect citizens from any entity that impairs the enjoyment of freedom of expression,” said Mr Berger.

Exceptions to free speech should only be made in terms of international standards, which narrowed these according to a three-part test whereby any process of curtailment needed to be transparent, avoid “overkill”, and be done for legitimate purposes.

These purposes, added the Director, were specifically listed in the ICCPR as being reserved for protection of other rights, national security, and public health and morals. He expressed caution about a proposal at the forthcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) which could make it permissible for governments to also begin to curb information that was deemed to be “sensitive”. 

Mr Berger urged a multi-stakeholder approach to promote online freedom of expression in terms of international standards. He said UNESCO would continue its support of governments in ensuring that their legislation related to Internet had safeguards to protect the hard-won right to freedom of expression and its benefits for democracy and development.

Access the full text of Mr Guy Berger’s speech: please click here.

For more information on 2nd Freedom Online Conference, please click here.

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