December 2011 No.79  
  Other News

UN database to fight arbitrary deprivation of freedom


The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has highlighted the practice of arbitrary detention, which it emphasizes takes place in all countries, affecting thousands of people each year.

At an event in Paris marking the 20th anniversary of the Working Group, three personalities from Ethiopia, Myanmar and Syria who had been arbitrarily deprived of their freedom for exercising their human rights spoke about their experiences. Haithem Al-Maleh, a former judge and Syrian human rights defender, has been imprisoned several times for his criticism of the human rights situation in the country. Birtukan Mideksa, a former judge and leader of a political party in Ethiopia, was sentenced to life imprisonment prior to her release. Aung San Suu Kyi also addressed the event via a video message.

The Working Group’s official Opinions on their cases and more than 600 others are now available in a public online database, launched on 14 November.

Over the last 20 years, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has developed extensive jurisprudence relating to international human rights norms and standards applicable to different forms of deprivation of liberty. The database, which has been made available online with the assistance of Thomson Reuters and Freedom Now, will ultimately contain all publicly available documents adopted by the Working Group, including its country visit reports and annual reports which also refer to mandate related thematic issues. These will be available in English, French and Spanish.

“The database is an indispensable tool for the victims, legal practitioners, States, national human rights institutions, academics and civil society,” said El Hadji Malick Sow, who currently heads the expert panel.

“All countries are confronted by the practice of arbitrary detention. It knows no boundaries and thousands are subjected to it every year either because they have exercised their fundamental rights, or because they have been unable to benefit from the guarantees of a fair trial, or for other reasons, like the growing practice of administrative detention for asylum seekers,” he added.

Bacre Ndiaye, the Director of the Human Rights Council and Special Procedures Division of the UN Human Rights Office added that the Working Group’s mandate has never been as relevant as it is today. “Arbitrary detention has become endemic and is more and more, in the context of recent protests around the world, used as a weapon to silence and eliminate all opposition,” he said.

Mr. Sow added that the Working Group is a truly universal mechanism for dealing with cases of arbitrary deprivation of liberty. The Group's Opinions are based on legal norms prohibiting arbitrary deprivation of liberty as expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as instruments like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Unlike other international and regional human rights mechanisms, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is not bound by the rule that an individual has to exhaust domestic remedies before approaching it. The new database can be accessed here.

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