On 23 October 2009 the Human Rights Committee met for its first reading of the rapporteur’s Draft General Comment No. 34 on Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights concerning freedom of expression and opinion.


The attempt to replace the ‘skimpy’ General Comment No. 10 on Article 19 (although has not yet been agreed by the Committee) with a more comprehensive text was viewed by one committee member as ‘urgent and timely’, as violations of the two freedoms constituted ‘one of the great contemporary scourges’ in human rights.

The Committee managed to consider the first four paragraphs of a 56-paragraph draft. One of the most noteworthy issues of the first day of discussion was the issue of derogability of rights, with the Committee for the first time agreeing that the right to hold opinions without interference under Article 19 (1) was a non-derogable right, under which no reservation may be submitted by States parties to the Covenant. The Committee also focused on the connections between Article 19 and rights and freedoms protected under other articles of the Covenant.

Whereas there was general consensus regarding the relevance of the right to privacy, political rights, and protection of minorities to freedom of expression and opinion, the relevance of a link to the right to a fair trial was questioned by some Committee members, pointing out its essentially procedural nature. Similarly, a proposed reference to the rights of the child was rejected due to a lack of explicit mention of freedom of expression and opinion in Article 24 of the Covenant. Regarding the relevance of Article 19 to economic, social and cultural rights, the Committee took care to emphasise the indivisibility of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as the need to adhere to its own mandate, and agreed upon a general reference to human rights in the text.

The Committee continued its first reading of the Draft General Comment on Tuesday 27 October 2009

Now that the first reading has been completed the Committee is inviting comments on the draft from all interested parties. Read the draft General Comment. Submissions should be sent to the Secretariat of the Committee by 30 January 2011, at ccpr@ohchr.org This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


Why should NGOs make submissions?

General Comments detail the Committee’s interpretation of the content of particular rights and of the corresponding obligations on States. As such they are used by both the Committee and other treaty bodies to guide their deliberations when reviewing States. They are also used by States themselves to help them understand their own obligations. General Comments therefore play a significant role in any assessment of whether or not a State is satisfying its obligations with respect to a particular right.

Article 19 of the Covenant, on freedom of expression, obviously has particular implications for the ability of human rights defenders to carry out their legitimate work. It is crucial that human rights defenders should understand the content of draft General Comment 34, and ensure their own views are represented in the deliberations of the Committee by making a submission on the content of the first draft.

Whereas there was general consensus regarding the relevance of the right to privacy, political rights, and protection of minorities to freedom of expression and opinion, the relevance of a link to the right to a fair trial was questioned by some Committee members, pointing out its essentially procedural nature. Similarly, a proposed reference to the rights of the child was rejected due to a lack of explicit mention of freedom of expression and opinion in Article 24 of the Covenant. Regarding the relevance of Article 19 to economic, social and cultural rights, the Committee took care to emphasise the indivisibility of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as the need to adhere to its own mandate, and agreed upon a general reference to human rights in the text.

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