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ARTICLE 19 launches the Camden Principles on Freedom of Expression and Equality

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - Geneva, 23 April 2009 - Today, at the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, ARTICLE 19 has launched The Camden Principles on Freedom of Expression and Equality ("The Camden Principles"), a ground-breaking document that will guide legislators, policy-makers and civil society in balancing the rights to freedom of expression and equality.

Striking the right balance between free speech and non-discrimination has often presented governments and activists alike with difficulties and challenges. Where does protected speech end? Where does the right to equality take precedent over that of freedom of expression?

These difficulties have been compounded in recent years by terrorism and counterterrorism measures, immigration debates, and lately the international financial crisis which have led to the stigmatisation of certain ethnic and religious groups, further polarised societies, and resulted in acrimonious debates around the issues of religious defamation and intolerance.

Based on a progressive interpretation of international human rights standards, The Camden Principles offer a thoughtful and alternative approach to address these challenges and conflicts.

"The Camden Principles demonstrate that the rights to equality and freedom of expression go hand-in-hand and mutually reinforce each other, and that neither one of these indispensable human rights can be achieved at the expense of the other," says Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director. "They uphold the key principles of universality and indivisibility where too many have tried to impose exceptions and hierarchy."

The Camden Principles address such difficult issues as hate speech, the role of the mass media in combating discrimination, and the right of reply. The Principles counter the disproportionate focus on the tensions between the two rights and the often heard suggestions that the realisation of the right to freedom of expression is incompatible with the realisation of the right to equality. This is especially important given the polarisation that has characterised the preparatory process for the Durban Review Conference.

However, ARTICLE 19 believes that The Camden Principles will have a longevity that will surpass this Durban Review Conference and will be a vital tool for legislators well into the future.

"The Camden Principles are action- and policy-oriented. They offer legal and policy avenues to govern national and international undertakings on the appropriate relationship between the rights of expression and equality. They reconcile rights and entitlements which too many have constructed as in opposition or conflict. They offer a response to those who claim that the current human rights framework is void and empty - an historical product no longer relevant. They also bring civil society together, particularly those of us who are fighting for the right to equality and the right of freedom of expression, rather than pitching one against the other," concludes Callamard.

The Camden Principles was drafted by ARTICLE 19, with the participation of a high-level group of UN officials and representatives from other intergovernmental organisations, NGOs and academic experts, following two meetings in London on 11 December 2008 and 23-24 February 2009.

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