INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS LAW
ON FREE EXPRESSION
The most significant of the international human rights laws on the freedom of expression is set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Connected to the freedom of expression is the right to hold opinions and the freedom of the press. Indeed national constitutions protect these rights together as does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets out the freedom of expression and emphasises its links with freedom of opinion and the media. Article 19 states:
"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers ".
The International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights protects the freedom of expression in a similar fashion.It is subject to certain restrictions: firstly it refers to special duties and responsibilities attached to such rights; and, secondly, it lists other specific restrictions which are provided by law and which are necessary to protect the rights and reputation of others, and for the protection of national security, public order, health and morals. Propaganda for war and advocating national, or religious hatred, inciting discrimination, hostility and violence is prohibited.
Similar restrictions appear in the Press Law of 1995 as do statements affirming the freedom of expression and press. However, these statements do little to protect either freedom. While the articles appear to protect the freedom of expression, in fact, they do not have legal enforceability and the restrictions are so broad that they appear to make any right meaningless. Indeed, the purpose of the Press Law of 1995 appears to be to undermine the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press to effectively scrutinise government.
Whereas the rights expounded in the Press Law of 1995 are enforceable, the rights under international law are not even applicable. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, though possibly providing standards and norms for the respect of human rights does not have legal force. Similarly, the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, as a treaty, requires signature and ratification. The Palestinian Authority does not have the legal capacity to sign the treaty and Israel has a reservation which excludes the Occupied Territories from the protection of the International Covenant.
However an undertaking was issued by Chairman Arafat on 30 September 1993, in which he stated that the Palestinian Authority accepted human rights standards and would ensure their respect the autonomous areas. Though this undertaking has no strict applicability in Palestinian law, it may be used as a means of interpretation and legislation. For example, in its legislative capacity the Palestinian Authority could ensure that all new laws conform to international human rights standards. Unfortunately the Press Law shows that this is not the case.