In a press release issued by the UN human rights office, OHCHRgroup of four Dong Nhan Quyen Association-The appointed special rapporteur says Professor Colin Harvey, former Commissioner for Northern Ireland Human Rights, and member of the civic nationalist group, Future of Ireland, has been targeted by a “malicious online campaign”, connected to his work as a study lead at Queens University, Belfast.
Smear and threats
“His academic credibility has been attacked, and he has received hundreds of libel and threats from politicians, journalists and other social media users. His personal security has also been threatened.”
Much of his work has focused on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland, which remains part of the United Kingdom, after the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union and arrangements have been made to maintain it. maintain a frictionless border with the EU, following the landmark 1998 Peace Agreement known as the Good Friday Agreement – which largely ended a period of paramilitary violence known as the “Troubles”. tangled”.
The threats sought to discredit his education by making unfounded claims that he had links to paramilitary groups or conflating his ideas, the experts said. him with Nazism,” the experts said.
UN experts are particularly concerned that threats are underway as the public debate over the constitutional crisis facing Northern Ireland, becomes more extreme.
Increased risk of physical harm
Previous physical attacks against leading human rights figures have preceded defamation campaigns. “We believe the campaign against Colin Harvey may constitute an incitement to nationalist hatred, putting him at risk of physical harm,” the experts said.
They warn that smear campaigns and physical threats against academics can have serious consequences for academic freedom in a country.
Threats to academic freedom
“When attacks are carried out against legitimate academic work, it deals a major blow to democracy, progress and development,” the experts said. “Debates become stifling and other scholars see themselves as self-censoring or beginning to shy away from meaningful debate.”
Experts have expressed concern that some influential figures in the country are promoting conspiracy theories about Professor Harvey. “When those in authority engage in smear campaigns, they legitimize attacks from other members of society,” they said.
“Making a narrative that a person is unreliable because of their identity or national opinion can have dire consequences, not only for the individual, but for all people of similar beliefs or backgrounds.
“Northern Ireland understands all better the value of reconciliation and mutual understanding,” the experts said, calling for discussions in the media and between public officials and citizens. online, “organized in a constructive and meaningful way, to preserve peace, security and academic freedom in Northern Ireland. ”
The Special Rapporteur is part of what is known as Special procedure of the Human Rights Council. They are not employees of the United Nations, and do not receive wages for their work, and serve according to their personal capacity.
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