Geneva, Switzerland (BBN)– The United Nations human rights chief voiced concern on Thursday over reported ‘cyber war’ pressure on private companies to sever links with the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, saying this could amount to attempted censorship in breach of international covenants.

“If WikiLeaks has committed any recognizable illegal act, then this should be handled through the legal system, and not through pressure and intimidation, including on third parties,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said of the reported pressure on banks, credit card companies and internet service providers to stop hosting and close down donation credit lines to the website that has released thousands of secret United States documents.

At a news conference in Geneva she also voiced concern at some of the US actions in Iraq revealed by the documents, which could constitute human rights violations.

“The files reportedly indicate that the US knew, among other things, about widespread use of torture and ill-treatment of detainees by Iraqi forces, and yet proceeded with the transfer of thousands of people who had been detained by US forces to Iraqi custody between 2009 and 2010,” she said.

“In my view, this could potentially constitute a serious breach of international human rights law,” she added, hailing efforts by independent UN experts to obtain clarification from the US, Iraqi and Afghan authorities on the reports of torture and ill-treatment described in the WikiLeaks documents.

“I urge all countries to take necessary measures to investigate the allegations made in these reports and to bring to justice those responsible for human rights abuses.”

She said the cyber war now raging over WikiLeaks is “just astonishing… Let me say that the WikiLeaks cases raises complex human rights questions about balancing freedom of information, the right of people to know, and the need to protect national security or public order. This balancing act is a difficult one.”

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides for the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, a right which may be restricted only when necessary, proportional, provided by law, and justified strictly on the need to protect national security or public order, Ms. Pillay stressed.

BBN/SI/AD-10Dec10-12:29 pm (BST)