Abu Dhabi: Saudi Arabia affirmed that its efforts to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic were undertaken within the framework of human rights and as part of a two-pronged strategy: Combating the epidemic and stemming its spread on the one hand, and addressing its implications and the need for precautionary measures on the lines of human rights on the other hand.
This was revealed by Mishaal Bin Ali Al Balawi, the head of the Human Rights Section in the kingdom’s delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council in its 43rd session, held in Geneva. Al Balawi’s comments came during an interactive session on freedom of opinion and expression and the impact of COVID-19 on it.
Complying with international standards
Al Balawi said: “The kingdom’s systems, foremost of which is the basic system of government, endeavours to enhance freedom of opinion and expression, while observing other rights, given that human rights are complementary, interdependent and indivisible, as stated in the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which is fully consistent with the relevant international standards that have subjected freedom of opinion and expression to necessary restrictions under the law, to protect a number of principles stipulated in those standards, including public health. Any such restriction must meet the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality, so that no restriction is imposed on freedom of opinion and expression, except on a legal basis, and that this restriction is necessary and proportional to the goal or the intended benefit.
He pointed out that the 8th article of the system of publications and publishing included that freedom of expression of opinion is guaranteed by all means of publication within the scope of law.
Protection for journalists
With regard to disseminating information and enabling everyone to have access to it, Al Balawi said the relevant authorities in the kingdom are publishing all information related to COVID-19, where the Ministry of Health publishes a daily update of infections, their spread and all that relates to them, as well as creating a continuously updated electronic board, including accurate details on this matter that can be accessed by everyone.
The head of the Human Rights Section at the kingdom’s delegation to the United Nations added that press conferences conducted periodically by the Ministry of Health and other parties concerned are available to all media, and provide the necessary protection for journalists in the light of this pandemic and in recognition of their vital role.
Freedom of opinion and expression
With regard to accessing the internet, he said: “The number of users of the internet represents a clear witness of the implementation of this right, as 92.77 per cent of families in the kingdom had access to the internet until December 2019, which is likely to have increased during the pandemic.”
He indicated that as part of the efforts to promote freedom of opinion and expression, many systems related to freedom of opinion and expression are currently being reviewed, in view of the kingdom’s regulations and international human rights standards, to ensure that these systems play a pivotal role in protecting the fundamental principles, set forth in international standards, including public health, so as not to negatively affect everyone’s right to express his views.