The international community is continuing to express deep concern over the human rights situation in the United States, particularly in regards to its indefinite detention policies and attempts to censor the Internet through legislation such as the recently shelved Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).
On Monday UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed disappointment that the U.S. government has failed to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility despite President Obama’s promises three years ago, and has instead entrenched a system of arbitrary detention. Pillay said she was troubled by the failure to ensure accountability for serious human rights violations, including torture, that have taken place at the notorious prison camp.
“It is ten years since the U.S. Government opened the prison at Guantanamo, and now three years since 22 January 2009, when the President ordered its closure within twelve months. Yet the facility continues to exist and individuals remain arbitrarily detained – indefinitely – in clear breach of international law,” said the UN human rights chief.
“To make matters worse,” she added, “the new National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law in December 2011, now effectively codifies such indefinite military detention without charge or trial. This piece of legislation contravenes some of the most fundamental tenets of justice and human rights, namely the right to a fair trial and the right not to be arbitrarily detained. Nobody should ever be held for years on end without being tried and convicted, or released.”
The High Commissioner also said that international law requires “thorough and systematic investigation of all allegations of serious human rights violations, including torture, that allegedly took place at Guantanamo Bay.”
“Every effort must be made to hold to account those responsible for the development, approval or implementation of coercive interrogation methods analogous to torture under international law,” she said. “Individuals found to have perpetrated, ordered, tolerated or condoned torture and ill-treatment should be brought to justice.”
Pillay said she was disturbed by the Government’s failure to allow independent human rights monitoring of the detention conditions at Guantanamo.
“I urge the US Congress to take steps to enable the US Administration to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre – as it stated it wished to do – in compliance with the Government’s obligations under international human rights law, and in so doing, to fully respect the principle of non-refoulement, under which no one should be sent back to a country where they may face torture,” Pillay said.
Regarding SOPA and PIPA, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, today called for governments to reassess protection of intellectual property rights online, emphasizing the potential threat to individual freedoms posed by expanding legal rights and technological restrictions.
The recent debate over SOPA and PIPA shows that there is an urgent need to reassess the design and scope of international intellectual property rights in the digital age, she said.
“Under no circumstances should the interests of rights holders be placed above the fundamental right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy,” said Mijatovic. “We need a new balance between the legitimate rights of the copyright holders and the creative exercise of everyone’s right to freedom of expression in the public domain.”
Established by the Helsinki Final Act in 1975, the OSCE spans North America, Europe and Central Asia, counting the United States as one of its 56 members.
“I call on all OSCE participating States to come up with new approaches to protect both fundamental freedoms and intellectual property rights. These should reflect the spirit and pace of the digital age we are living in,” she said. “Mandatory monitoring of Internet content for copyright infringements could have a chilling effect on users engaging in political discourse.”
Mijatović urged governments to reconsider their Internet strategies, keeping in mind its borderless nature to ensure that the Internet remains an open and public forum for freedom of expression for their citizens, in line with OSCE commitments and international standards of media freedom.
“Governments must be aware that every attempt to regulate the Internet on the national level inevitably has global implications – because we still are fortunate to have only one Internet. Any online regulation should thus be considered carefully and debated openly, including with the industry, civil society, media and governments, in order to ensure that it does not lead to fragmentation or to cutting off users and interrupting the free flow of information,” she said.