Brussels, 05/12/2014
141205_03_en
PRESS RELEASE

Freedom of Expression online and offline: 16th EU-NGO Human Rights Forum (2014)

The 16th EU-NGO Human Rights Forum took place in Brussels on 4 and 5 December 2014, bringing together hundreds of civil society organisations from across the globe, representatives from international and regional human rights mechanisms and from the EU institutions and Member States. The Forum is a joint venture between the European External Action Service, the European Commission, and the Human Rights & Democracy Network ([1]). The overarching theme for this year's Forum is Freedom of expression on line and offline, one of the key priorities of the EU Strategic Framework for Human Rights.

''The theme of this year's NGO Forum – Freedom of Expression online and offline – reflects the EU's strong commitment to put Freedom of Expression at the heart of the EU's human rights policy as an essential foundation for democracy, rule of law, peace, stability, sustainable inclusive development and participation in public affairs'' said the EUSR for Human Rights, Mr Stavros Lambrinidis, opening the Forum. The event saw also contributions from the current and former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, David Kaye and Frank la Rue, Indonesia Commissioner at the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, Djamin Rafendi, Council of Europe Ambassador Torbjorn Froysnes, Sakharov Prize recipient the Belarus Journalist Association, represented by Michal Janczuk, alongside many representatives from civil society, Human Rights Defenders, NGOs, and the EU Institutions, including many members of the European Parliament.

The forum also looked at the recent EU Human Rights Guidelines on Freedom of Expression Online and Offline, as a key tool enabling the EU to promote and protect freedom of opinion and expression and to counter the increasing level of intimidation and violence that journalists, media actors and other individuals face in many countries across the world because of the exercise of their rights online and offline.

The Forum discussions provided a significant opportunity to interact with representatives from civil society organisations and human rights defenders from all over the world, active in the field of Freedom of expression on line and offline. The outcome of the Forum will be an important stepping stone for ensuring effective EU action and future policy developments in this field. 

In this respect, the EU regrets the travel ban imposed on Saudi human rights defender Samar Badawi, who was scheduled to travel to Brussels to participate in this year's NGO Forum, specifically dedicated to freedom of expression. The EU has contacted the authorities of Saudi Arabia and sought clarifications on the reasons for which this ban was decided.

Engagement with civil society is essential for the ongoing work the EU is undertaking to help realise human rights, indivisible and universal for all peoples. Events like the EU-NGO Forum are just one of the ways in which the EU engages with civil society. In his address to the closing session of the Forum, European External Action Service Director for Human Rights and Democracy Silvio Gonzato stated: "The Forum represents a unique opportunity for civil society organisations to have their voices heard by the European Institutions and other organisations working on human rights. At a time when the environment for civil society organisations is deteriorating in many countries and their role is questioned even in international fora, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that the voices of NGOs, Human Rights Defenders, and all actors active on promoting and protecting Human Rights are heard ".

http://eeas.europa.eu/human_rights/index_en.htm

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[1] The Human Rights and Democracy Network (HRDN) is an informal grouping of NGOs operating at the EU level in the broader areas of human rights, democracy and peace.  HRDN’s vision is that human rights and democracy are placed at the heart of the EU's internal and external policy agenda. More information on the network can be found here:

http://www.hrdn.eu/index.php?menu_selected=122&language=US&sub_menu_selected=768