UN freedom of speech rapporteur must wear several hats, says Bulgarian candidate

Screenshot from interview with Iveta Cherneva with Eurocom TV channel. [Eurocom.bg]

Iveta Cherneva, a Bulgarian author who writes about security, politics, human rights, and sustainability, and a EURACTIV contributor, has been shortlisted for the position of the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech.

EURACTIV’s Georgi Gotev talked to her about her plans.

How can an organisation such as the UN, where China and Russia sit in the Security Council, have a meaningful role in promoting freedom of speech? 

The future UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech is not selected by the UN Security Council. In fact, the UN Security Council has nothing to do with the selection of the UN Special Procedures. The process on the selection of the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech involves multiple screening and selection stages which include the staff of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Consultative Group of the UN Human Rights Council, the President of the UN Human Rights Council, and then the 47 member states of the UN Human Rights Council who will vote on the appointment. We are really talking about a multi-layer, multi-player process here.

Bulgaria ranks 111th in terms of media freedom, according to the World Press Freedom Index by Reporters without borders. Is this a handicap for you or perhaps not, I mean a candidate from the countries ranking first or second, like Norway and Finland, would be less acceptable?

Yes, Bulgaria is on 111th place in the recent Reporters Without Borders ranking. Of course, when selecting and evaluating the future Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech nationality will play a role.

First, because the UN Special Procedures seek diversity and representation, and never in history has there been a UN Special Rapporteur from Bulgaria, on any human rights issue. Bulgaria is not only an underrepresented country, it is a never-represented country.

Secondly, the reason why nationality is important is due to the fact that a Special Rapporteur has to be ready to respond directly to challenges to freedom of speech. It makes sense to have a candidate who comes exactly from a country dealing with the specific human rights issue, a candidate like me who has been an open advocate for media freedom in Bulgaria and one of the vocal leaders of the anti-corruption protests of 2013 which marked history.

Do you know who the other candidates are, and who do you think are your strongest competitors? Are there other candidates shortlisted from EU countries?

The long list of finalists contains 50 names which are already publically available. The top 5 candidate list, however, that I belong to, is not publically known. So I know that there are at least four other excellent candidates for the role. The first hearing for the post took place on Tuesday (19 May) with the Consultative Group of the UN Human Rights Council.

Are you an official candidate of Bulgaria or did you apply independently?

I did write to the Bulgarian Mission in Geneva and the Bulgarian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva to seek support for my candidacy for the UN Special Procedures but I did not hear back. Therefore, there is no government that stands behind me. I am a fully independent candidate and I will always be. I will serve no government, and I will spare no government, should I be selected as the next UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech.

Generally, support from a government is not necessary in order to be nominated and considered. Now, of course, governmental support, on the whole, is a key to being selected, approved and voted in because the UN Human Rights Council consists of member states.

Both governmental support and governmental opposition can help or harm a candidate. Governmental support is not everything in the process. Governmental support can really go either way. Lack of support from a certain government, for example, can also tell a lot. In fact, opposition from a certain government speaks volumes to the Consultative Group.

Tell us more about yourself.

I was a part of “history in the making” growing up as a little girl in Bulgaria. I lived in a society which realised what the difference is when Freedom of Speech was not there and when she came back.

The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech needs to be the full package. He or she needs to wear several hats at the same time and this is something that the Consultative Group is aware of.

I combine several aspects necessary for the role of a UN Special Rapporteur. I have the legal and academic knowledge of human rights. I have the political element having worked with various political actors on human rights. I have that activist angle and experience, but also I got down the media aspect with my various media appearances, articles and opinions over the past decade. Last but not least, my career at the UN with five different agencies adds another layer of my candidacy. I have worked in the UN human rights system so now I am ready to take it to the next level to become the top global expert on freedom of speech, which is one of the most scrutinized and potentially explosive mandates really.

Finally, in terms of who I am as a person, I will quote one of my favourite rappers, G-Eazy: “If I ever said I’m never scared, just know I mean it”.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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