The situation of Edward Snowden and alleged large-scale violations of the right of privacy by surveillance programmes raise a number of important international human rights issues which need to be addressed, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said on Friday. “While concerns about national security and criminal activity may justify the exceptional and narrowly-tailored use of surveillance programmes, surveillance without adequate safeguards to protect the right to privacy actually risk impacting negatively on the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Ms. Pillay said.
“Both Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights and Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights state that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with one’s privacy, family, home or correspondence, and that everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks,” said the High Commissioner.
“People need to be confident that their private communications are not being unduly scrutinised by the State,” Ms. Pillay noted.
“The right to privacy, the right to access to information and freedom of expression are closely linked .The public has the democratic right to take part in the public affairs and this right cannot be effectively exercised by solely relying on authorized information,” the High Commissioner said.
“Snowden’s case has shown the need to protect persons disclosing information on matters that have implications for human rights, as well as the importance of ensuring respect for the right to privacy,” Ms. Pillay said.
“National legal systems must ensure that there are adequate avenues for individuals disclosing violations of human rights to express their concern without fear of reprisals,” the High Commissioner added.
As stated by the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin, “reliable factual information about serious human rights violations by an intelligence agency is most likely to come from within the agency itself. In these cases, the public interest in disclosure outweighs the public interest in non-disclosure. Such whistleblowers should firstly be protected from legal reprisals and disciplinary action when disclosing unauthorised information.”
The United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms* contains important provisions for the protection of the right to defend human rights. Those who reveal information that they reasonably believe to indicate the commission of human rights violations are entitled to such protection.
“Without prejudging the validity of any asylum claim by Snowden, I appeal to all States to respect the internationally guaranteed right to seek asylum, in accordance with Article 14 of the Universal Declaration and Article 1 of the UN Convention relating to the status of Refugees, and to make any such determination in accordance with their international legal obligations,” Ms. Pillay said.
* The Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms can be found here:http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Defenders/Declaration/declaration.pdf