GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay gave guarded support for fugitive former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden on Friday, saying his case showed the need to protect people who uncovered abuses.
In her first public comments on the matter, Pillay also called on all countries to respect the right for people to seek asylum.
Snowden, wanted by the United States for leaking details of its secret surveillance programs, said on Friday he would seek temporary asylum in Russia. Washington has pressed nations not to take him in or help him travel.
"Snowden's case has shown the need to protect persons disclosing information on matters that have implications for human rights, as well as the importance of ensuring respect for the right to privacy," Pillay said in a statement.
"National legal systems must ensure that there are adequate avenues for individuals disclosing violations of human rights to express their concern without fear of reprisals," she added.
Pillay said undue surveillance could amount to an infringement of human rights.
"While concerns about national security and criminal activity may justify the exceptional and narrowly-tailored use of surveillance programs, surveillance without adequate safeguards to protect the right to privacy actually risks impacting negatively on the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms," she said.
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, no one may be subjected to arbitrary interference with their privacy, family, home or correspondence, and the law must protect everyone against such interference, she said.
She cited testimony by a former U.N. expert on human rights in counter terrorism, saying reliable information about human rights violations by an intelligence agency is most likely to come from within the agency, and whistleblowers in such cases should be protected from legal reprisals and disciplinary action.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Andrew Heavens)