Chicago Journal of International Law

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The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is one of the lesser-known United Nations Special Procedures. While its name does not indicate a focus on freedom of expression, it has defined “arbitrary” detention to encompass detention based on conduct protected under the free expression provisions of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (for States Parties) and the corresponding text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As such, the WGAD can serve as a critical forum for protecting free expression—particularly for individuals whose free expression rights may be violated by states not parties to the ICCPR or its Optional Protocol I.

This Essay describes the contributions of the WGAD’s recent free speech jurisprudence to the understanding of protected free expression in international law. It first explains the sources of protected free expression in international law, then summarizes the WGAD’s establishment and functioning, and then identifies key developments in the WGAD’s recent caselaw on the subject. It concludes that the WGAD is a valuable forum for people detained on the basis of free expression.

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