Craig A. Johnson
Date: Fri, 09 Feb 96 16:31:06 EST
To: Multiple recipients of list <•••@••.•••>
Subject: HRW Statement on CDA
Human Rights Watch
485 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10017-6104
1522 K Street, N.W.
Washington D.C. 20005
Statement of Human Rights Watch on Communications Decency Act
February 9, 1996
Human Rights Watch is pleased to join the American Civil
Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Planned
Parenthood Federation of America and many other groups and individuals
as plaintiffs in ACLU v. Reno, the challenge to the "Communications
Decency Act" (CDA), signed by President Clinton yesterday.
Reflecting our commitment to freedom of expression worldwide,
Human Rights Watch opposed this legislation since its inception -- not
only as a violation of the First Amendment, which is asserted in our
lawsuit, but as a violation of international legal safeguards, such as
the guarantee in the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights of the right "to seek, receive and impart information and ideas
of all kinds, regardless of frontiers ... through any media."
At a time when repressive governments around the world,
desperate to keep a monopoly on power and information, are taking
steps to shackle the Internet, it would be tragic for the United
States -- traditionally a world leader on freedom of expression -- to
provide a road map for curbing access to the information superhighway.
We joined this litigation not only because we oppose the
Communications Decency Act in principle, but because, like the other
plaintiffs, we are concerned that it could have a direct and damaging
impact on our work to expose the most serious violations of human
rights, such as sexual abuse and sexual torture.
Our reports and press releases often reproduce the testimony of
persons who have been subjected to sexual abuse, from Ogoni women
raped and tortured by Nigerian security forces to young Burmese women
and girls trafficked into sexual slavery in Thailand. We reproduce
such testimony and use graphic and detailed descriptions because we
believe that it is impossible to fully and accurately convey the
violence and severity of human rights abuses by using euphemism,
sanitized labels, or indirection. Yet it is possible that under some
community standards, these graphic accounts of suffering would be
construed as "indecent" or "patently offensive."
Our gopher site and electronic mailing list are used to
disseminate our press releases, public letters, newsletters and other
documents, many of which discuss such abuses. Students, some of whom
may be under the age of eighteen, regularly access our materials. Soon
we will be posting the full text of our reports, containing even more
material that could conceivably run afoul of the "indecency" standard,
on a site on the World Wide Web.
If, each time we publish our reports or refer students to them,
we must now assess the potential risk of criminal prosecution, the
only people who will benefit are those who commit the terrible human
rights abuses we expose. The people who will suffer are the victims of
human rights abuse, who rely on our capacity to mobilize public
outrage for their prevention and remedy.
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