“Criticism is Not a Crime” – High Commissioner for Human Rights

Speaking at a Human Rights Day Event (10th December) in Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called on Governments “to acknowledge that criticism is not a crime, and to release all those people who have been detained for peacefully exercising their fundamental freedoms to defend democratic principles and human rights.”

The call came against a background of an apparent crackdown on Human Rights activists in China. Three UN experts, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya; Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue; and Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, El Hadji Malick Sow issued a statement expressing concern at reports that since 8 October 2010, over 20 arrests or detentions of human rights defenders, and over 120 other cases of house arrests have taken place in China.

The UN experts stressed that “this recent and alarming trend to increasingly restrict the space to exercise the right to freedom of expression and the ability of Chinese human rights defenders to carry out their peaceful and legitimate activities calls into question China’s commitments to promote and protect universal human rights.”

In her speech Ms Pillay paid tribute to human rights defenders everywhere who, despite grave risks, continue to champion the vision of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights through their ideas and deeds. She acknowledged the famous defenders, those who have become “icons”. Others, she said, “may be less famous but are not less determined and courageous.”

A number of groups were singled out for special mention – groups who through force of circumstance find themselves particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse with little or no chance of redress. These include the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples many of whom “are considered unwanted guests in their own ancestral lands”; the 200 million migrants world-wide, especially those who are undocumented and irregular who face chronic forms of discrimination; and half of the worlds population, women, who in many places still do not receive equal pay for equal work and whose rights generally continue to be restricted.

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