UN defends human right to WikiLeaked info
Rejects calls for 'illegitimate retributive action'
The United Nations has responded to the ongoing WikiLeaks kerfuffle, urging member states to – ahem – remember the basic human right to access information held by governments and other public authorities.
In issuing a joint statement on Wikileaks with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression does not mention the US or other involved countries by name. But he does mention "the release of diplomatic cables by the organization Wikileaks" – a reference to the classified US State Department cables released late last month – and clearly, he's concerned that in responding to the leaks, the US and other countries will step on established international legal principles – if they haven't already.
The UN statement was promptly tweeted by WikiLeaks itself.
"The right to access information held by public authorities is a fundamental human right subject to a strict regime of exceptions," the statement reads. "The right to access to information protects the right of every person to access public information and to know what governments are doing on their behalf. It is a right that has received particular attention from the international community, given its importance to the consolidation, functioning and preservation of democratic regimes.
"Without the protection of this right, it is impossible for citizens to know the truth, demand accountability and fully exercise their right to political participation."
Any exceptions to this basic right, the statement continues, should be precisely defined – and should not be misused. "The right of access to information should be subject to a narrowly tailored system of exceptions to protect overriding public and private interests such as national security and the rights and security of other persons," it says.
"Secrecy laws should define national security precisely and indicate clearly the criteria which should be used in determining whether or not information can be declared secret. Exceptions to access to information on national security or other grounds should apply only where there is a risk of substantial harm to the protected interest and where that harm is greater than the overall public interest in having access to the information."
The White House dubbed the leaked diplomatic cables "stolen and classified documents."
"These cables could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders, and when the substance of private conversations is printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, it can deeply impact not only US foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world," the White House said in a statement the day the cables were released. "To be clear – such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government."
The UN statement does not mention Julian Assange by name, and it doesn't specifically discuss the role WikiLeaks played in leaking the cables. But it does seek to protect the human rights of "journalists, media workers and civil society representatives" and other individuals "who receive and disseminate classified information because they believe it is in the public interest" as well as "government whistleblowers."
"Any attempt to impose subsequent liability on those who disseminate classified information should be grounded in previously established laws enforced by impartial and independent legal systems with full respect for due process guarantees, including the right to appeal," the statement continues.
US Congressional representative Peter King, due to head the House Intelligence Committee when the new Congress convenes next year, and Senate Intelligence Committee heads Dianne Feinstein and Kit Bond have asked that Julian Assange be charged under the 1917 US Espionage Act, and Senate Homeland Security Chairman Joseph Lieberman wants to know why Assange, who is not a US citizen, hasn't already been charged with treason.
"We can go back to the earlier dump of classified documents mostly related to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan that occurred in July, and to me that was a violation of the Espionage Act as well," he has said.
The UN statement also seems to address speculation that the US government has put pressure on the likes of Amazon, PayPal, and MasterCard to prevent WikiLeaks from using its services. "Direct or indirect government interference in or pressure exerted upon any expression or information transmitted through any means of oral, written, artistic, visual or electronic communication must be prohibited by law when it is aimed at influencing content."
And it would seem to answer concerns that the Swedish rape allegations against Assange are part of an effort to crack down on WikiLeaks: "Illegitimate interference includes politically motivated legal cases brought against journalists and independent media, and blocking of websites and web domains on political grounds."
It even decries public officials who make calls for "illegitimate retributive action."
Meanwhile, the AP reports that the United Nations' special rapporteur on torture in Geneva is investigating a complaint that the Army private suspected of sharing classified documents with WikiLeaks has been mistreated while in custody. Pfc. Bradley Manning is confined to a Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia, and vistors claim he stays in a cell for at least 23 hours a day. ®
Right to information.
Citizens to have a right to know what's being negotiated on their behalf : the whole ACTA fiasco is a classic example of what is essentially a violation of our human rights. At the same time – though it will get me eleventeen squillion downvotes from the zealots – there is legitimately some information whose release will endanger people. (Military and covert operations being only the beginning.)
Are our governments classifying /way/ more information than they should be? Without question. I think we as the individuals who make up our various nations should be on our various parliaments’ lawns demanding change in this manner. Open government with as much transparency as is reasonably possible. Starting with campaign contributions, corruption, backroom dealing and who is owned by whom.
There need to be legal protections for whistleblowers. Indeed, countries that have ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be required to provide political amnesty and safe harbour – exempt from extradition laws – for whistleblowers. Under two conditions:
1) Countries should have special recourse for the extradition and imprisonment of individuals who leak information that results in the deaths of others. As mentioned above: the rights to citizen’s access to information are not absolute; there are very narrowly defined specific circumstances in which “national security” actually means something.
2) Individuals should not be allowed to use such whistleblowing safe harbour as a means of escaping other legitimate crimes.
The wikileaks bit is a mess. A complicated bit of faffery that has been blown out of proportion and hyped by so many different people with so many different agendas that the truth is lost. The signal has overcome the noise. Whistleblowers are critical to the proper functioning of a society – I hold Cryptome up as an example of excellence in this field – but there are limits. Where those limits do – and should – lie is hugely up for debate.
Whilst I disagree with a lot of what has happened as part of this little fiasco, the one thing I am glad of is that we – the various nations of the western world – are finally sitting down are starting to define these limits. Where is the line between “a citizen’s right to know what his government is up to” and “disclosure of this information will endanger lives?”
We can only hope that the current culture of perpetual, constant and all-encompassing secrecy will be curtailed and driven back. If only it doesn’t get lost in the shining glow of one individual's grab for the limelight and the resulting blacklash of entrenched interests.
"...hasn't already been charged with treason."
Because he is not a US citizen. You can only commit treason against your own government to which you have pledged your loyalty.
Where the f*ck do these people come from for Christ sake?
I vote he gets a Nobel Prize
Just like many other people, he has put himself at risk in bringing information into the public domain which we deserve to know.
He has conservatives, rednecks and morons (they are different you know) asking for bad things to be done to him.
Anyone who has upset all 3 of those groups at once must have some redeeming qualities...