I am pleased to announce the publication of my final report to the United Nations Human Rights Council (as my mandate as special rapporteur is scheduled to conclude this summer). You can find it here. (Word version from OHCHR website, with more hyperlinks accessible, is available here.)
Originally I had planned for this report to address the legislative trends around freedom of expression worldwide, and we will still publish something along those lines in due course. But as everyone knows, the pandemic has intervened, and with it has come a range of very serious concerns about the repression of freedom of expression worldwide. In fact, as the report puts it, “the virus itself emerged into environments of censorship, rising repression of dissent, politicization and denigration of expertise and science.” There is the potential — and as we look around the world, the reality — of deepening repression and disinformation at the very moment when responsible adherence to free expression norms is so vital.
In short, the report highlights five major challenges (though I hasten to emphasize that this is not exhaustive): access to information, access to the internet, protection and promotion of the media, public health disinformation, and public health surveillance. In no area does the report go into the kind of depth required. Many organizations are doing this work and I urge people to look for that work (I won’t even begin here to shout out to them as I’m sure to miss some of the excellent work). Still, I hope this report can provide some guidance to States, the Human Rights Council and the public as we all seek to monitor measures taken — or purportedly taken — to address the public health threats posed by the COVID-19 virus.
I look forward to reactions and hope for its wide (if justified!) dissemination. Perhaps I can just close this short post with the last two paragraphs of the report.