UN Special Rapporteur Announces Publication of Report on COVID-19 and Freedom of Expression

David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression
David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression

The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr.David Kaye, has announced the publication of his final report as Special Rapporteur, focusing on COVID-19 and Freedom of Expression, saying itwill be submitted to the Human Rights Council pursuant to the UN Human Rights Council resolution 34/18.

In the report, David Kaye registers alarm that some efforts to combat the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic may be failing to meet the standards of legality, necessity and proportionality. The Special Rapporteur highlights five areas of concern, showing that access to information, independent media and other free expression rights are critical to meeting the challenges of the pandemic.

The Special Rapporteur said he had originally planned for this report to address the legislative trends around freedom of expression worldwide, but noted that 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.”

He expressed concern that looking around the world, the reality points to the fact that there is the potential of deepening repression and disinformation at the very moment when responsible adherence to free expression norms is so vital.

David Kaye’s report highlights the following five major challenges, which he emphasized are not exhaustive: access to information, access to the internet, protection and promotion of the media, public health disinformation, and public health surveillance.

He disclosed that in no area does the report go into the kind of depth required, saying many organizations are doing this work and urged people to look for that work. His hope, he said, is that the 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.

The report contains a plea to all Governments to treat those within their jurisdictions – and indeed, given the global nature of the pandemic, those without – with the dignity and respect demanded by international human rights law. It adds that in moral terms, “that requires an attitude of democratic participation, and a willingness to engage the public with generosity and understanding, in the hard steps that individuals are being asked to take: separation from loved ones, lonely deaths, loss of employment, education and social intercourse, and the deprivation of cultural or religious activities that help billions of people enjoy meaningful lives.”

The report is available online and can be downloaded here. The MSWord version from OHCHR website, with more hyperlinks accessible, is available here.