UN expert warns combat against violent extremism could be used as ‘excuse’ to curb free speech

UN expert warns combat against violent extremism could be used as ‘excuse’ to curb free speech

A United Nations human rights expert today signalled concern that efforts to counter “violent extremism” may be construed as the “perfect excuse” for democratic and authoritarian governments to restrict free expression and control access to information.

“By ‘balancing’ freedom of expression and the prevention of violence, the programmes and initiatives aimed at countering ‘violent extremism’ have – often purposely, sometimes inadvertently – put at risk or curtailed the independence of media,” said David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, in a press release on World Press Freedom Day.

While recognizing the important role that governments and non-State actors play in countering violence extremism (CVE) and its incitement, Mr. Kaye and his counterparts from the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) raised concerns in their annual Joint Declaration that programmes to prevent or and/combat violent extremism risk undermining freedom of expression.

“So-called CVE or PVE programmes must be based on a legal framework and on evidence of their effectiveness and their necessity and proportionality to achieve legitimate objectives,” Mr. Kaye stressed.

The human rights expert noted that most relevant programmes fail to provide definitions for key terms, such as extremism or radicalization, pointing out that “in the absence of a clear definition, these terms can be used to restrict a wide range of lawful expression.” …
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