The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) is revising its Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa to address new technological advances, online activity, and internet restrictions throughout Africa, and is requesting input from stakeholders. [ACHPR Press Release] The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa invites comments from civil society, States parties, and others on a new draft Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa. [ACHPR Press Release] The Draft Declaration, currently available in English, French, and Portuguese, follows from a series of resolutions adopted by the African Commission in 2012 and 2016, mandating updates that better address the impact of the internet and digital technologies on the right to freedom of expression and access to information. [ACHPR Press Release] Civil society submissions should be emailed to the Secretariat of the African Commission at email@example.com by July 1, 2019. [ACHPR Press Release]
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On November 24, 2017, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) held that Rwanda violated Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza’s right to freedom of opinion and expression, as well as her right to an adequate defense. See AfCHPR, Ingabire Victoire Umuhoza v. The Republic of Rwanda, App. No. 003/2014, Judgment of 24 November 2017, paras. 173(viii)-(ix). Specifically, the African Court held that Rwanda violated the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) because the criminal conviction and sentence imposed on Ingabire for a speech that, the African Court found, did not minimize the genocide was a disproportional and unnecessary restriction on her freedom of speech; however, the Court further found that the law criminalizing the minimization of genocide may impose a legitimate restriction on the right to freedom of expression for purposes of preserving public order and national security. See id. at paras. 141, 161-163. The Court’s analysis on the right to freedom expression draws on the only other judgment from the Court to weigh on an alleged violation of that right and relies, as that previous judgment did, on comparative international human rights jurisprudence to develop the right to freedom of expression in its own case law, including to recognize that the right protects opinions that “offend, shock or disturb.” See id. at paras. 120-63; AfCHPR, Lohé Issa Konaté v. Burkina Faso, App. No. 004/2013, Judgment of 5 December 2014.
While Ingabire’s case was pending before the Court, Rwanda moved to withdrawal its declaration allowing individuals to appeal directly to the AfCHPR; while the withdrawal has gone into effect, it does not affect those cases that the Court already had jurisdiction over, including Ingabire’s case. [IJRC] See AfCHPR, Ingabire Victoire Umuhoza v. The Republic of Rwanda, App. No. 003/2014, Ruling on Jurisdiction, 5 September 2016. Read more
On December 1, 2015, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that Turkey violated the right to freedom of expression by blocking access to YouTube, a widely-used video platform, from May 2008 to October 2010. See ECtHR, Cengiz and Others v. Turkey, nos. 48226/10 and 14027/11, Judgment of 1 December 2015 (available only in French). The application was lodged by three Turkish academics who claimed that they were active users of YouTube and that a Turkish court’s blanket ban violated their right to receive and impart information and ideas. The European Court observed that as a unique platform for citizen journalists, YouTube allowed users to access information on political and social matters that could not be readily obtained elsewhere and that by blocking the access to this platform, Turkey violated the applicants’ rights under Article 10 (right to freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights (Convention). [ECtHR Press Release]
Since the ban at issue was lifted, on several occasions Turkish authorities have again blocked YouTube and other sites, including Twitter, pursuant to a newer law that allows such bans to be put in place without a court order. [Financial Times; The Guardian]
On May 7, 2015, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented its 2014 Annual Report, evaluating the state of freedom of expression in the Americas, to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Organization of American States (OAS). [IACHR Press Release] See also Executive Summary of the 2014 Annual Report of the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR.
For the first time in its eight-year tenure, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Court) has directly considered the right to freedom of expression, and the validity of legislation that criminalizes defamation. The case, Lohé Issa Konaté v. Burkina Faso, involved a journalist’s conviction, imprisonment, and substantial fine in connection with his reporting. [AfCHPR Press Release] In its decision, the African Court unanimously found that Burkina Faso violated Article 9 (freedom of expression) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter), Article 19 (freedom of expression) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Article 66(2) (the press) of the Revised Treaty of the Economic Community of West African States (Revised ECOWAS Treaty) by imposing a sentence that was disproportionate to the purpose of the State’s national laws. AfCHPR, Lohé Issa Konaté v. Burkina Faso, App. No. 004/2013, Judgment of 5 December 2014. Read more
MANDATE OF THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND ACCESS TO INFORMATION
The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information is one of the special mechanisms overseen by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Special Rapporteurship was created in 2004 during the Commission’s 36th Ordinary Session. See, e.g., ACommHPR, Resolution 71, Resolution on the Mandate and Appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in Africa, 7 December 2004. Its purpose is to promote and protect the freedom of expression throughout the African Union (AU) Member States.
COMPOSITION AND WORKING METHODS
The Commission appoints Special Rapporteurs either by a consensus or by a vote. See ACommHPR, Rules of Procedure of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 2010, Rule 23(2). The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information has been renewed by the Commission several times, typically every two years. See, e.g., ACommHPR, Resolution 122, Resolution on the Expansion of the Mandate and Re-appointment of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, 28 November 2007. As of October 2014, each individual appointed as Special Rapporteur has been a Commissioner, simultaneously serving on the African Commission.
The Special Rapporteur undertakes a number of duties, including providing guidance on alleged violations, analyzing States’ domestic laws and their compliance with international standards, and conducting visits to Member States.
Guidance on Alleged Violations
The Special Rapporteur provides the Commission with guidance in responding to communications that concern the freedom of expression and access to information. The mandate holder may lend expertise and insight during the Commission’s considering of complaints related to his or her mandate.
The Special Rapporteur is responsible for keeping an accurate record of alleged violations, and publishing these occurrences in the reports that he or she submits to the Commission. The Special Rapporteur may ask the relevant Member State for clarification regarding an alleged violation. See id.
The mandate holder also writes letters of appeal to State officials, requesting them to investigate allegations of violations of the freedom of expression. See, e.g., Pansy Tlakula, Intersession Activity Report, 50th Ordinary Session (2011).
Analysis of National Practices and Policies
The Special Rapporteurship evaluates Member States’ laws and makes recommendations, encouraging the States to better align their policies with their obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other international standards, including the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa.
The Special Rapporteur led the drafting process for the Model Law on Access to Information in Africa, which provides State lawmakers with guidance toward preparing national legislation that meets international standards.
The Special Rapporteurship writes letters of appreciation to Member States that have made significant progress in protecting and promoting the freedom of expression and access to information. See, e.g., Pansy Tlakula, Activity Report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Intersession Activity Report, 50th Ordinary Session (2011).
The Special Rapporteur’s mandate authorizes country visits to Member States, with their consent. During these visits, which are also known as missions, the Special Rapporteur investigates alleged violations of the freedom of expression, and makes recommendations to the State on how to increase respect for the freedom of expression.
According to Rule 60 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure, after the completion of a mission, the Special Rapporteur has a duty to publish a Mission Report, which may be found on its website. These reports contain general recommendations to the State, and often include specific recommendations to actors including the international community and civil society, among others.
States are encouraged to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur to ensure that he or she is able to engage with individuals whose freedom of expression or access to information has been violated, government officials, and civil society organizations. See ACommHPR, Resolution 71, Resolution on the Mandate and Appointment of a Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Expression in Africa, 7 December 2004.
The Special Rapporteur is responsible for seeking and receiving information from individuals, governmental and non-governmental organizations and institutions, and other stakeholders concerning cases or situations that involve the freedom of expression and access to information.
Along with information gathered from such actors and during missions, the Special Rapporteur disseminates and obtains information through promotional activities, such as delivering speeches at conferences, participating in panels, publishing press releases, and holding interviews. See, e.g., Pansy Tlakula, Activity Report of Pansy Tlakula as the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa & Member of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Intersession Activity Report, 54th Ordinary Session (2013).
The Special Rapporteur has collaborated with other relevant Rapporteurs of the Inter-American human rights system, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the United Nations in publishing joint declarations to advance the freedom of expression. See, e.g., Declaration on Freedom of Expression and the Internet, 1 June 2011.
On the basis of information received, the Special Rapporteur may propose that the Commission take a certain action or decision, or he or she may raise awareness of an issue in his or her reports, press releases, public statements, or other activities.
The Special Rapporteur submits Intersession Activity Reports to the Commission each year, which outline the activities the Special Rapporteurship has undertaken. The Commission also prepares an annual Activity Report that it submits to the African Union Assembly, which includes information gathered from the Special Rapporteur, summarizing positive developments and areas of concern regarding human rights in Africa.
The Special Rapporteur may be contacted by:
Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information
31 Bijilo Annex Layout, Kombo North District
Western Region P.O. Box 673 Banjul
- Email: The Special Rapporteur’s website contains an automated system to send the rapporteur emails, by selecting the “Contact Commissioner” link.
The Special Rapporteur does not accept individual complaints or requests for provisional measures. Such communications must be addressed to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. For additional information, see the Commission’s Guidelines for the Submission of Communications or IJRC’s resources on the African human rights system.
MANDATE OF THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR FOR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
The Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression is one of the special mechanisms overseen by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Commission created the Rapporteurship during its 97th Session in 1997. See, e.g., IACHR, Press Release No. 13/97, 17 October 1997. The Heads of State and Government of the Americas expressed their approval for the creation of the Special Rapporteur during the Second Summit of the Americas, and ratified the Special Rapporteur’s mandate during the Third Summit. See, e.g., IACHR, Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. The purpose of the Rapporteurship is to protect and promote the freedom of expression throughout the Organization of American States (OAS) Member States.
COMPOSITION AND WORKING METHODS
In order to elect the Special Rapporteur, the Commission must publicly post the position, which allows individuals who are not members of the Commission to apply. The Commission then accepts comments from OAS Member States and civil society regarding the final candidates, and ultimately reaches a majority vote to elect the new Rapporteur. See Rules of Procedure of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, art. 15. Each Rapporteur serves in an independent capacity and does not represent his or her country of citizenship. In contrast to the thematic rapporteurships, the Rapporteur who holds the office undertakes his or her work on a full-time basis, including during the three times per year that the Commission is in session. Multiple staff members, in Washington D.C., assist the Rapporteur with his or her work.
The Rapporteur has many duties, including conducting country visits to OAS Member States, providing advisory support to OAS bodies, drafting special statements on cases and situations related to the freedom of expression, and preparing publications. The Rapporteur also encourages Member States to adopt initiatives that protect the freedom of expression, and coordinates with national human rights institutions to follow-up on situations involving the freedom of expression. The Rapporteurship also advises the Commission in its processing of individual petitions, cases, and requests for provisional and precautionary measures that involve the right to the freedom of expression. On its website, the Rapporteurship lists the Inter-American decisions and judgments that address freedom of expression, and also has links to case law from other human rights systems.
The Rapporteurship conducts country visits to OAS Member States, with their consent. The Rapporteur is often accompanied by other members of the Commission or members of the Executive Secretariat staff. During country visits, the Rapporteur engages with government officials, academics, and civil society organizations, among others. The Rapporteur uses information gathered from the visit to draft reports and develop recommendations to Member States to assist them in fulfilling their international obligations. The Rapporteurship publishes reports following its country visits on its website.
Aside from information gathered during country visits, the Rapporteurship often obtains information through promotional activities, including the organization of seminars, workshops, and specialized meetings. The Rapporteurship is often invited to participate in public hearings or regional meetings of international experts on the right to the freedom of expression.
Additionally, the Commission holds thematic hearings to gather information from States and civil society on particular issues. The Rapporteur may participate in these hearings or refer to the information discussed in subsequent reports. View the Commission’s searchable database of public hearings to see those related to the freedom of expression.
The Rapporteurship publishes thematic reports and studies on issues affecting the freedom of expression. The Rapporteurship has a duty to provide the Commission with annual reports of its activities, which the Commission then shares in its own Annual Reports to the OAS General Assembly. The Rapporteurship’s annual reports include best practices, outline the challenges faced that year, discuss jurisprudence related to the freedom of expression, and contain recommendations to Member States.
The Rapporteurship may be contacted by:
Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
1889 F Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20006
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Telephone: +1 (202) 370-4614
The Rapporteurship does not receive individual complaints or requests for precautionary measures. Such petitions and requests must be addressed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. For additional information, see the petition form or IJRC’s resources on the Inter-American human rights system.
In a new report, the regional human rights expert on freedom of expression in the Americas identifies principles and standards to guide States in their regulation of online communication. On June 27, 2014, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) released the report, Freedom of Expression and the Internet, specifically addressing the challenges of protecting the right to freedom of expression in a digital world. [IACHR Press Release] Notably, the report draws on the standards and doctrine of the United Nations, African, and European human rights systems, in addition to those of the Inter-American system. The publication is a useful tool for activists, human rights advocates, civil society organizations, judges, regulators, and others who encounter challenges related to the intersections of online communication and fundamental rights.
Riots in France over Veil Ban Prompt Continued Discussion of Freedom of Expression and Religion, Stigmatization of Muslim Women
For the moment, the riots in France over the public ban on face veils have abated, but public discussion of the law’s possible infringement on freedom of religion continues. The riots, which began on July 19 in Trappes, a suburb west of Paris, were prompted by the arrest of a man whose wife was ticketed for wearing a face veil in public. [AP] Nearly 250 people clashed with police and 20 cars were set on fire during two nights of protests. [AP]
France’s “Burqa Ban”
On November 19th the UN Human Rights Committee issued its decision in Irina Fedotova v. Russian Federation, Communication No. 1932/2010, a complaint involving a form of codified discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation that has become increasingly prevalent. The Human Rights Committee found that the applicant’s conviction under the Ryazan Law on Administrative Offenses (Ryazan Region Law) which prohibits “public actions aimed at propaganda of homosexuality among minors” violated her right to freedom of expression, read in conjunction with her right to freedom from discrimination, under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Read more