Politicians and public officials must create an enabling environment for freedom of expression, not diminish it

International human rights experts of the United Nations and regional organizations today denounced the rising tide of dangerous, hateful public statements coming from some politicians and public officials.

“Such rhetoric is dangerous because it spreads intolerance and divisiveness, denies established facts, eroding trust in democratic institutions, undermining human rights, and threatening or encouraging attacks on journalists, human rights defenders, and putting minorities at risk,” they said. 

“Political statements enjoy a high level of protection under international law, and that places a responsibility on politicians and public officials to uphold the rule of law, human rights, media freedom,  intercultural understanding, and public trust in democratic systems of governance” noted the independent experts.

“Freedom of expression and the right to information require on the one hand strong protection for open and inclusive debate on matters of public interest and on the other hand, acceptance by political and public officials that by virtue of their positions their official conduct and some aspects of their private lives are legitimate objects of close public scrutiny.’ 

The Experts launched a 2021 Joint Declaration on Politicians and Public Officials and Freedom, calling States to foster independence, diversity and pluralism in the media, social media companies to ensure their content moderation rules, systems and practices meet international human rights standards. Noting that politicians and public officials play an important role in shaping public debate and opinion, the Declaration calls on politicians and public officials to refrain from dangerous hateful public statements.

Joint Declarations by the free speech rapporteurs have been adopted annually since 1999, covering current universal challenges to freedom of expression.

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