Human Rights Council
According to the UN Human Rights Council website, ‘the Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe. It has the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention throughout the year. It meets at the UN Office at Geneva.’ Two important mechanisms for freedom of expression and media freedom will be discussed, the Universal Periodic Review and Special Procedures.
1. Universal Periodic Review
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is the ‘human rights exam’ all UN Member States take every 5 years. 42 States are peer-reviewed in Geneva each year during three Working Group sessions. The UPR is a unique mechanism of the Human Rights Council (HRC) aimed at improving the human rights situation on the ground of each of the 193 United Nations (UN) Member States. NGOs can actively contribute to the UPR process through so-called stakeholder submissions.
Each UPR review is based on 3 reports about the human rights situation from the State under Review (SuR) that are produced by 1.) the State under review, 2.) civil society and national human rights institutes, and 3.) the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
During the UPR Working Group review at the Human Rights Council, all governments can provide recommendations to the SuR for improvements to their laws and policies. The SuR will be represented at the UPR itself, where they will respond to these recommendations. At the end of the review the SuR can accept or ignore recommendations made. An ‘outcome’ document is produced after the dialogue. This document includes recommendations given to the SuR. When they accept a recommendation, States are expected to implement it. The outcome document is officially adopted during the regular meeting of the Human Rights Council.
Geneva-based NGO UPR-Info, established in 2008, raises awareness on the use of the UPR and provides capacity-building tools to NGOs who want to engage in the UPR process. On their website one can find all information about States under Review, roadmaps, resources about how to engage and more. They also organise UPR pre-sessions where civil society actors who have made a stakeholder submission can engage with the government representatives of the State under Review, other civil society actors and Geneva-based delegates of the Permanent Missions of UN Member States.
The Danish Institute for Human Rights has developed the Human Rights Data Explorer. It is a one-stop database containing all recommendations made to UN Member States that can be filtered to explore human rights recommendations and their connections to the 2030 Agenda on SDG target level, including 16.10 (see below).
Read more on the UPRUPR page of United Nations Human Rights Council (This website contains all relevant documentation, including recommendations and responses by and dates of states under review)
Tutorials (including tests) on the UPR process (Geneva-based NGO UPR Info has made these short slide presentations giving you a short run-down of what the UPR is)
The Civil Society Compendium. A comprehensive guide for Civil Society Organisations engaging in the Universal Periodic Review
UPR Info Pre-sessions: Empowering human rights voices from the ground (Information guide about the pre-sessions organised by UPR Info, an advocacy opportunity to engage state representatives in Geneva before the ‘human rights exam’ takes place)
2. Special Procedures
According to the UN Human Rights Council website, ‘[t]he Human Rights Council’s Special Procedures mandate holders are made up of special rapporteurs, independent experts or working groups composed of five members who are appointed by the Council and who serve in their personal capacity. Special procedures undertake country visits; act on individual cases and concerns of a broader, structural nature by sending communications to States and other actors bringing alleged violations or abuses to their attention; conduct thematic studies and convene expert consultations; contribute to the development of international human rights standards; engage in advocacy; raise public awareness; and provide advice for technical cooperation.’ Two rapporteurs work on issues related to freedom of expression and media freedom.
A. UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression
On the website of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan, one can find information on international and regional standards, annual thematic reports and comments on legislation and policy: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/OpinionIndex.aspx
Read more on the Special RapporteurMore about the mandate and working method of the Special Rapporteur:
The website of the previous UN Special Rapporteur David Kaye is a useful repository i.a. containing thematic reports, joint declarations on freedom of expression as well as resources to understand, track and respond to disinformation:
B. UN Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy
On the webpage of the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, international and regional standards and other human rights instruments are listed related to the right to privacy: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Privacy/SR/Pages/Internationalstandards.aspx
In 2004, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights established the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression i.a. advises the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, conducts visits to OAS Member States, provides technical advisory support and promotes and reports on the situation regarding right to freedom of thought and expression in OAS Member States. IACHR decisions can be found by topic on the page of the Special Rapporteur on the OAS website, and are classified under:
- Violence, threats and hostilities against members of the media
- Subsequent imposition of sanctions due to expression
- Direct and indirect censorship
- Access to information
While there is no mechanism such as a special representative as in the UN, African and Latin American systems, the freedom of expression, freedom of the press and media pluralism are the responsibilities of the EU Commissioner Values and Transparency and Vice-President Věra Jourová.
However, other Commissioners also have responsibilities that directly or indirectly affect the enabling environment for the media. This includes Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, responsible for the enforcement and reviewing of EU market competition rules, big data and artificial intelligence. And Vice-President and High Representative Joseph Borrell, responsible for Democracy and Human Rights within the External Action of the EU.
The European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) ‘is in charge of most of the legislation and democratic oversight for policies enabling the European Union to offer its citizens an area of freedom, security and justice (Article 3 TEU)’.
Council of Europe
The Venice Commission is the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters and provides legal advice to member states ‘to bring their legal and institutional structures into line with European standards and international experience in the fields of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.’ The Council of Europe’s Media Freedom Alerts site regularly includes Venice Commission opinions.
Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe
The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, observes media developments in the 57 participating states and provides early warning on violations of free expression and media freedom. The Representative observes 8 issue areas: decriminalisation of defamation, digital switchover, hate speech, media freedom on the internet, media laws, media pluralism, media self-regulation and safety of journalists, with a specific focus on safety of female journalists online. The webpage of each issue contains a number of key resources such as reports of the Representative, stater commitments, guidebooks.