The 10th anniversary of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa is today being commemorated in the Ivorian capital of Yamoussoukro where the 52nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) is taking place. The event has been organised by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Commissioner, Pansy Tlakula, in collaboration with Article 19, the Center for Human Rights and the University of Pretoria.
The Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa was adopted by the ACHPR at its 32nd Ordinary Session held in October 2002, which represented an important milestone for the advancement of freedom of expression and access to information on the continent.
The anniversary of the Declaration coincides with the 10th anniversary of the African Union as well as the 25th anniversary of the Commission, providing an important opportunity to reflect on human rights developments on the continent since the creation of the Commission, as well as the contribution the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa has made to the work of the Commission and the overall human rights environment in Africa.
During the commemoration ceremony the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa will launch a Pan African campaign to decriminalise free speech on the continent, calling on States to observe their obligations in accordance with the declaration, and repeal legislation which infringes upon citizens’ right to freedom of expression. In particular the Special Rapporteur will call upon states to repeal criminal defamation, criminal libel, sedition, insult laws and false news laws which have had a particularly chilling effect on freedom of expression and media freedom over the last number of decades.
MISA has worked tirelessly for over twenty years on campaigns to decriminalise free speech in order to create a more condusive environment for the media and the public in Southern Africa to freely express their thoughts and opinions. MISA extends heartfelt congratulations to the Special Rapporteur on this new Pan African initiative. It is hoped the initiative will encourage leaders across the continent to rid their countries of non-progressive and archaic laws which violate the right to freedom of expression.
The Declaration has provided and important impetus to MISA’s work over the past decade and has informed much of its work around decriminalisation and access to information. In particular the Declaration has played a significant role in the drafting of the 2011 African Platform on Access to Information (APAI) declaration. It is with this in mind that the commemorations provide an ideal opportunity to reflect on the last 10 years with respect to developments on the continent regarding freedom of expression, media freedom and access to information.
Whilst there have been some very positive developments on the continent since its adoption, MISA recognises that much work still needs to be done to ensure that the principles of the declaration are abided by in the Southern African region and that citizens enjoy this right undeterred by repressive legislation.
On the 10th anniversary of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, and at this time that MISA itself is celebrating 20 years of advocating for media freedom and freedom of expression in Southern Africa, we would like to call on governments in Southern Africa and across the continent to enact access to information legislation and repeal repressive legislation that criminalises free speech.