ENDitorial: First FRA Conference on Fundamental Rights

By EDRi · December 17, 2008

Article corrected on 27.12.2008 – it was OSCE instead of OECD in paragraph 3.

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On 8 and 9 December 2008, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) held
its first Fundamental Rights Conference in Paris. The event examined key
issues and challenges related to the freedom of expression. The conference
coincided with the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights and was co-organised by the French Ministry of Justice.

In his welcoming speech, Jacques Barrot, the Vice-President of the European
Commission and Commissioner for Justice Freedom and Security, stressed out
the fact that pluralism was a condition sine qua non for freedom of
expression, but that there had to be limits in cases when the right to live
was affected. Hatred, racism and xenophobia cannot be accepted therefore, a
balance of competing rights has to be found. During his speech, Mr. Barrot
also announced that a Europol unit for tracking “dangerous websites” would
be set up in 2009.

Janez Lenarcic, the Director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and
Human Rights (ODIHR) of the OSCE, pointed out the differences in the legal
systems of the OSCE member states. What in some countries is considered to
be part of the freedom of expression in other countries it can be considered
to be a hate crime. Furthermore, in some countries of the OSCE area, that he
described as Potjomkin democracies,there are Human Rights problems.

Also, the representatives of the Council of Europe, Margaret Killerby,
representing the Secretary General, and Ulrika Sundberg, representing the
Commissioner for Human rights, stated that anti-terror legislation had a
negative impact on the freedom of expression and that these measures on one
side and human rights on the other had to be carefully balanced. In the area
of the Council of Europe, journalists still face violence for practising
their right to freedom of expression. Also their right to receive
information anonymously from anyone is often challenged and has to be

In her Keynote speech, the French journalist Florence Aubenas stressed the
fact that freedom of expression is not only challenged in distant countries
of the CoE and OSCE but that this is as well an issue in France. In a recent
ranking of countries regarding freedom of expression that was published by
Reporters without Borders, France was only ranked 45. A clear sign that the
influence of the state over the media is present today in France.

During the rest of the conference, five working groups were established,
covering some important aspects of the freedom of expression.

The working group on challenges to freedom of expression very much focussed
on the challenges media and journalists face today. Problems with influences
from states and commerce were discussed as well as challenges emerging from
the discussion fora of online media and the increased publishing
possibilities for the average citizen on the Internet.

FRA Fundamental Rights Conference

(contribution by Andreas Krisch – EDRi)