Thursday, July 28, 2011

UN: Office of the High Commissioner: Freedom of opinion and expression

28 July 2011

Freedom of opinion and expression – how far the protections go: the UN Human Rights Committee

GENEVA – The UN Human Rights Committee has issued an authoritative new commentary* on one of the most challenged and sensitive topics in international human rights law – the extent to which the freedom of opinion and expression can be restricted by a state.

The General Comment by the Committee addresses the legality of restrictions, including blasphemy laws, “memory” laws, laws on such matters as treason, counter-terrorism, lese majeste, desacato, defamation of the head of state and the protection of honour of public officials. 

The General Comment also clearly confirms the extension of freedom of expression protections to new media actors, including bloggers.

“The General Comment is a comprehensive response to numerous requests from lawmakers, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, rights defenders and even journalists asking for clarification on many of the issues covered by the rights to freedom of expression and opinion,” said Committee member Michael O'Flaherty, the principal drafter of the General Comment.

“It is a strong reaffirmation of the central importance for all human rights of the freedom of expression and sets out the very strict parameters within which the right can be restricted by states.”

The General Comment states that “memory laws”, which penalise the expression of opinions about historical facts, are unacceptable under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 

Blasphemy laws are incompatible with the Covenant, except under very specific circumstances subject to strict requirements set out in the Covenant.

It also offers the most comprehensive analysis yet in international human rights law of a right of access to information held by public bodies. It stresses the duty of States to foster a strong, free and plural media as well as access to new media information platforms.

"Freedom of expression is a necessary condition for the realisation of the principles of transparency and accountability that are, in turn, essential for the promotion and protection of human rights," the General Comment states.

“States parties should put in place effective measures to protect against attacks aimed at silencing those exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

Human Rights Committee

For more information, media requests:

Ravina Shamdasani  

Xabier Celaya
+ 41 22 917 9383 /

UN: Office of the High Commissioner: Gaza and Palestine


28 July 2011

AMMAN – The Special Committee to investigate Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people and other Arabs of the territories occupied since 1967* following visits to Gaza and Amman expressed dismay at Israel’s continuing disregard of its obligations under international law.

For the first time since it was established in 1968 the Special Committee was able to visit Gaza. The Government of Egypt facilitated the visit via the border crossing at Rafah.  

“Unfortunately, what we found was that the oppressive restrictions imposed on Gaza by Israel have the effect of collectively punishing the population,” noted the Committee.  

“With around 35% of Gaza’s land area excluded from agriculture due to Israel’s vague ‘buffer zone’ along the border, and its fishing areas limited to only three nautical miles from the coast (85% of fisheries), the people of Gaza could hardly feed themselves, much less revive a decimated economy through exports.  

We were alarmed by allegations that Israel enforces these policies employing live fire, including in some instances against children and the elderly.”

“Israel’s continuing blockade of Gaza contravenes the human rights of the people of Gaza and international humanitarian law and standards,” said Ambassador Palitha T.B. Kohona, Chairman of the Committee. “It is oppressive and diminishes the lives of the people of Gaza and must be ended now,” he stressed.

In Gaza, the Committee listened to victims, witnesses and United Nations officials who underlined the dire impact on human rights of the Israeli blockade.  

Homes, schools and other infrastructure that were destroyed by Israeli attacks in December 2008 and January 2009 could not be rebuilt due to restrictions on the import of building material. 

The economy declined significantly and is sustained by illegal imports through tunnels.  “It would be the occupying power’s responsibility to assist with the reconstruction of Gaza,” noted the Committee. 
“Beyond homes, schools, businesses that were destroyed, there is an urgent need for water treatment facilities, road, sewage treatment and the restoration of power.” 

“For many of Gaza’s children, life is difficult and the future is hopeless,” the Committee noted, referring to testimony concerning worrying health, psychological and social problems, increasing school drop out rates, and an increasing incidence of child labor.  

The Committee continued, “We hope the Government of Israel will seriously consider the potential consequences of a generation of Gazan children being raised in an environment of near-total deprivation and a lack of opportunities to lead a productive and hopeful life.”  

The policies and practices of the Government of Israel which violate the rights of Palestinian children was a constant theme throughout the Committee’s hearings.  

Witnesses and officials reported that Palestinian children’s access to education is being impeded through, among other things, restrictions on freedom of movement, constraints on access due to the Wall, a lack of schools – especially in East Jerusalem and Gaza, and threats and actual violence by Israeli settlers.  

The Committee’s attention was drawn to the large number children detained, and in this regard a range of practices of serious concern, including harsh interrogation techniques, torture, and expulsion from their villages.  

The Committee underlined its “deep concern regarding reports that Israeli security forces are raiding Palestinian homes in the middle hours of the night to detain children, allegedly as young as seven years old.”  

“Even more distressing are reports that children are being subjected to ill-treatments, taken before military courts, and often made to sign confessions under duress,” the Committee noted.  

The Committee referred to the expulsion of children from their homes, by Israeli courts, as “profoundly worrying and impermissible under international law.”

The Special Committee’s 9-day investigative visit to the region also included meetings in Amman, where it met with victims, witnesses and officials working on human rights in the West Bank and the Syrian Golan Heights.  

A frequent concern communicated throughout the visit related to the situation of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.  In this regard, Israel’s restrictions on family visits; denial of the right to education as of recent months; poor conditions of detention; lack of appropriate medical attention; extended detention without charges; and patterns of ill-treatment and torture while in detention comprise the main concerns.  

“The fact that the Government of Israel continues to hold around 6,000 Palestinians in prisons inside Israel, some for over twenty years, merits closer attention from the international community,” said the Committee. 

The members continued, “These prisoners and their families are suffering deeply.  The ill-treatment of women at border crossings and in Israeli prisons raises serious concerns.”

Witnesses updated the Committee regarding ongoing, systematic and widespread Israeli policies and practices in the West Bank, in particular East Jerusalem, such as the confiscation of Palestinian land, the arbitrary demolition of Palestinian homes and properties, restrictions on freedom of movement for Palestinians, and the expansion of Israeli settlements.  

Several witnesses provided testimony regarding increasingly frequent acts of violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and their lands and crops.  

The Committee noted that “The violence by Israel settlers against Palestinians, especially against children, and their lands, in particular the destruction of crops, is appalling.  It is plainly criminal behavior and the Israeli authorities must take measures to prevent and punish such behavior.”

Witnesses from the Golan Heights emphasized that Israel has continued its illegal policies and practices.  

Poor conditions of detention and a lack of family visits for prisoners, discriminatory access to water, especially for agricultural purposes, and the separation of families were highlighted as persistent concerns.  

Several witnesses raised concerns regarding the Israeli Defense Forces’ excessive use of force in response to protests on Nakba Day and on 5 June 2011, which resulted in deaths and injuries.  

They also noted with regret that Israel is currently confiscating land to build an eight meter separation wall between the Golan Heights and the rest of Syria.
In its report to the sixty-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly in November 2011, the Special Committee will provide an in-depth review of its main observations following the mission, and will make detailed recommendations to improve respect for human rights in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967.

OHCHR Country Page: Israel

OHCHR Country Page – Occupied PalestinianTerritories

Information, media requests, Kevin Turner
+41 79 444 40078 /

UN Human Rights:


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Buffalo Infringement Festival 2011: July 28th - August 7th

11 Days of Art Under the Radar

1200 performances!
52 venues
50 visual artists
190 musical acts
24 films/videos
90 performance projects including:
20 dances troupes/performers
35 theater groups/performers
27 poetry/ spoken word

The Buffalo Infringement Festival is an 11 day celebration of art of all kinds. It takes place in over 50 venues centered in Allentown and spans across the whole city of Buffalo.  

Artists perform in the usual venues and take over the streets of Allentown and the Elmwood Village.

There are 1200 performances and events scheduled in dance, theater, music, poetry, film, and visual installations.

In its 7th year, Infringement has grown tremendously from under 50 proposals in 2005, to 350 this year. Just about every artist in Buffalo takes part in the festival somehow and this year has 30 out- of - town acts coming to perform. 

The majority are musical acts but the festival’s roots come from theater. It has expanded to include every artist genre from the extremely edgy art performances to family friendly shows.

There are many group shows planned including the 9th Annual College Street Block Party, Infringement Circus at Merge, and the Broadway Market Extravaganza. 

Squeeky Wheel is hosting a film fest, Subversive Theater presents at Manny Fried, Volume at the Vault, Burlesque at Nietzsches, Bike In Movie Night, Brownman Electryc Trio Summit, Filigrees Art Night, Party at the Pearl, Welcome to Slyboots, Zombie Party and more!

Infringement is the focal point of the summer for many Buffalonians. Its just as easy to find a comfortable performance as to see things you never thought possible. 

Take the week off and consume yourself in Buffalo's largest art festival!

The schedule is available at and will be in print as an insert in the Artvoice on July 28th.