24 March 2011
General Assembly

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Human Rights Committee

101st Session

2790th Meeting* (PM)

Human Rights Committee Continues Second Reading of Draft General Comment


on Rights to Hold Opinions, Free Expression


The Human Rights Committee today continued its second reading of a draft general comment on the obligations of State parties under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which sets out the rights to hold an opinion without interference, and to freedom of expression.

Starting their review from paragraph 18, where they had left off yesterday, the Committee’s expert members continued through paragraph 24, finalizing and adopting eight paragraphs.  They address the right of the public and the media to access information on public affairs, as well as the means for doing so.

Michael O’Flaherty, expert from Ireland and Rapporteur for the draft General Comment, presented a new paragraph 16, drafted overnight for inclusion in the section on “Freedom of expression and the media” and intended to modernize the text by addressing new and emerging forms of media.  Advising States parties to take account of the extent to which new media were changing communications practices, the new paragraph said, “States parties should take all necessary steps to foster the independence of these new media and to ensure access of individuals thereto”.

Mr. O’Flaherty reported that several outside commenters invited to review the first draft felt the treatment of the separate rights of access to information by the public and the mass media, and of access to one’s personal records to be “muddled” and “mixed-up”.  In response, several experts argued that both must nevertheless be addressed, with one cautioning that the text must not confuse the right of access to information by media actors with the right of the public to receive information.

As they debated such issues as legislation allowing free access to information (paragraph 20), the experts accepted a suggestion to include language on arrangements for appealing cases in which States failed to respond to requests for information.  The Committee decided not to include a proposed paragraph on the treatment of “whistleblowers” — despite general sympathy in its favour among many members — on the basis that it lacked a body of jurisprudence in that area.

General Comments are the form in which the Committee publishes its interpretation of the content of human rights provisions.  It has issued 33 to date, which can be found at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/comments.htm.  The General Comments of all human rights treaty bodies are compiled annually and the latest version can be found under the same link.

The Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 30 March, to take up progress reports of the Special Rapporteur for Follow-up to Concluding Observations and the Special Rapporteur for Follow-up to Views.

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*     The 2789th Meeting was closed.

For information media • not an official record