Don’t ignore dark side of internet – UN rights commissioner

2013-04-18 10:35

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says she is distressed at how bloggers and journalists have been imprisoned in some countries for expressing anti-establishment views on the internet.

Delivering a lecture on international human rights achievements and challenges at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg last night, the former South African jurist and former judge of the International Criminal Court said it was important to protect freedom of expression on the internet.

But she also sounded the alarm that the “ubiquity of smartphone devices” and the use of social media made available users’ personal information, and how “cookies” could be manipulated to access users’ information without their knowledge.

“All this raises serious concerns about privacy. There is (also) a dark side to the internet, and it would be foolish to ignore that,” Pillay said.

She said when governments implement cybersecurity measures, they should do so in line with international law. She suggested there should be restrictions on the use of the web to spread racial and national hatred, but said these should be controlled by neutral bodies.

The Human Rights Council (HRC) has carried out programmes to fight racial discrimination.

Responding to a question about whether the HRC had not ignored the problem of the caste system, Pillay said she had met with victims of discrimination in countries such as Nepal and Japan.

“But India seemingly thinks this is what belongs to them. They have a political position that it should not be raise in international fora.

“Let me begin by saying the HRC has done a lot of work ... We’re addressing the matter, but I must agree with you that we are not doing enough,” she said.

Pillay said India had done the most of all countries to address the problem and had passed anti-caste laws, and even has “so-called lower-caste” people running some of its states.

Pillay was asked about the work the body was doing to address the human rights situation in Tibet, following a statement she recently issued asking China to open up dialogue following the increase in cases of self-immolation in that country.

“I did receive a visit from China. The statement wasn’t appreciated. I will continue to monitor the situation,” she said.

“I have an invitation from the Chinese government to visit China. I will be going this year. We are just fixing the dates. Part of my request is I want to see Tibet. I don’t think I will be blocked.”

Pillay said she had also received the UN secretary-general’s report on Iran, as the HRC regularly monitors the human rights situation in that country.

She said she had also received an invitation to visit Iran, which also has a poor human rights record, from that country’s government.

“I’ll acknowledge what I see has been done, but I’ll be critical.

“I’ve also made a condition that I will not be wearing a head scarf ... I explained that, as the high commissioner for human rights, I have a responsibility to uphold universal standards and non-discrimination against women, therefore I cannot myself collaborate in discrimination against women,” she said.

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