Archive for March 2003

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[eccr] CRIS Response to Article 19

Mon Mar 24 09:44:50 GMT 2003

CRIS Info is a public list for information and questions about the campaign
for Communication Rights in the Information Society (CRIS)
CRIS also has a Latin American regional list at:

See below and/or attached. Feel free to distribute.

CRIS Campaign and The Right to Communicate:  A Brief Response to Article

In a short analytical note and a press release of February 4th 2003, the
advocacy organisation Article 19 levelled some strong criticisms at what
it described as Cees Hamelink's draft "Declaration on the Right to
Communicate". (www.article  Article 19
subsequently released its own statement on the Right to Communicate.
(www.article ) in which the draft was again singled out
for criticism.  Article 19 has been committed for many years to a global
campaign for freedom of expression, so its critical comments deserve to
be taken seriously. This is a brief response from the CRIS Campaign that
just puts the matter in context, and clarifies a few important issues.
It is submitted in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration between
everyone devoted to the cause of the protection of human rights, that
will be essential if we are to make progress together.

First, the draft Declaration distributed on the CRIS Members list -
destined eventually to be considered for adoption by CRIS - was at that
point intended for internal purposes only. It was a preliminary paper
still needing much thought, and indeed many CRIS members responded to
the text with useful proposals for change and improvement.  A few warned
(as did Article 19 later) that several formulations in the draft could
be abused in a manner that could even threaten human rights.  One of the
essential questions that came up in the email correspondence between
CRIS members and the drafting group was: Should we strive towards the
recognition of a legal right to communicate as an addition to the
existing body of international law, or are there other less formal ways
to draw international attention to the fact that current human rights
provisions do not encompass "communication"?.  In the discussion some
people raised the problem that expanding the human rights regime with a
new right might endanger existing provisions.

There are different positions in this important debate. International
law is a living process, still growing. The catalogue of human rights
has expanded considerably over past years to include new rights and
freedoms, without at the same time endangering the basic standards as
formulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). And,
indeed, there is no reason why adding the right to communicate would in
itself threaten the existing framework.  Yet to be avoided at all costs
is any risk of 'cracking open' the articles of the UDHR leaving them
open to amendment, since the international community today would
certainly not adopt as far-sighted a document as the 1948-UDHR. Those
drafting the CRIS Declaration never had this in mind and never proposed

We wanted to explore in what ways the notion of communication could be
taken under the protection of the human rights regime. This exploration
is part of a discussion that had begun in 1969 with Jean D'Arcy's famous
article on the right to communicate. Jean d'Arcy introduced the right to
communicate by saying "the time will come when the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights will have to encompass a more extensive right than man's
right to information...This is the right of men to communicate".  This
new approach was motivated by the observation that the provisions in
existing human rights law (such as the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights or the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) were inadequate to
deal with communication as interactive, two-way traffic and as a process
of dialogue. 

In this spirit, the proposed draft did not aim to substitute any human
rights already recognized by the international community (such as
freedom of information rights, cultural rights or the right to
development). It invited readers to think along in the process of
strengthening the existing provisions and expanding them with the right
to communicate.

This is a very difficult endeavour, particularly since the drafters
wanted to put the right to communicate within the overall framework of
existing human rights law, encompassing much more than the right to
freedom of expression as articulated in Article 19 of the UDHR. This
framework contains many provisions for the protection of human dignity,
implying limits to the freedom of expression (such as the right to
privacy or the right to the presumption of innocence). If one accepts
the indivisibility of human rights then conflicts between various rights
need to be accommodated.

Moreover, communication processes belong to a much broader domain than
that covered by right to freedom of information. The right to
communicate addresses the core of the democratic process as well as the
essence of most social and personal relations. It goes far beyond
arrangements between citizens and states, and cannot avoid the
controversy regarding the matter of individual responsibilities under
international law. Since the International Military Tribunal at
Neurenberg these responsibilities have been established very clearly,
and this raises the question of their implications for institutions such
as the mass media. 

Members of CRIS continue to explore these issues and dilemmas with a
view to raising awareness and intervening constructively in
international debates.

We are very pleased that Article 19's own statement proposes the right
to communicate as an umbrella term encompassing related rights also
mentioned in the CRIS draft, like cultural rights and participation
rights. The statement is particularly welcomed in the context of the
preparations of the WSIS, where the issues raised by the very concept of
the right to communicate are -  or should be -  at the heart of the
debate. CRIS very much welcomes Article 19 as a partner in the search
for an adequate positioning of the right to communicate vis-à-vis
existing human rights provisions.

On behalf of the CRIS Declaration Drafting Group Cees J. Hamelink ,
Geneva February 24, 2003.

Communication Rights in the Information Society (CRIS)
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