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IRIS 2014-9:1/2

2014 Joint Declaration by the four special international mandates for protecting freedom of expression

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Toby Mendel

Centre for Law and Democracy

On 6 May 2014, at the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day Celebrations in Paris, the four special IGO mandates for protecting freedom of expression - the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, the OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information - adopted a Joint Declaration on Universality and the Right to Freedom of Expression. This was their 16th annual Joint Declaration, and was adopted with the assistance of the Centre for Law and Democracy and ARTICLE 19 (for former Joint Declarations, see IRIS 2011-8/2, IRIS 2010-5/1, IRIS 2009-9/101, IRIS 2009-2/101, IRIS 2008-4/1, IRIS 2007-2/101, IRIS 2006-3/2, IRIS 2005-2/1, and IRIS 2004-2/12).

The 2014 Joint Declaration is somewhat different from its predecessors, inasmuch as it focuses more on the philosophical underpinnings of freedom of expression than on technical/regulatory issues, although it also seeks to provide specific guidance on law reform.

The Joint Declaration highlights two inter-related aspects of universality for freedom of expression. The first is the positive obligation on States to ensure universal and equal enjoyment of this core right, while the second is the negative obligation on States to refrain from imposing undue restrictions on freedom of expression on the basis of a claimed need to protect their cultural, traditional or community values, or moral or religious beliefs.

In terms of the first issue, the Joint Declaration points to a number of measures States should take, including in support of public service and community broadcasting, media serving the voice and information needs of different individuals and groups in society, and access to the Internet. It also calls on States to address prejudices and harmful stereotypes that prevent certain groups from being able to enjoy their right to freedom of expression.

In terms of the second issue, the Joint Declaration makes it clear that States must modify or eliminate traditional or historical laws, regulations, customs and/or practices where these undermine respect for human rights, including the right to freedom of expression. While recognising that international law does grant States some flexibility to adapt restrictions on freedom of expression to respond to local contexts, the Declaration essentially rules out such adaptations in relation to political speech, given its importance to democracy and human rights. It also provides a list of types of restrictions which can never be justified, including to protect religion against criticism, to prohibit debate about issues of concern to minorities and, importantly, to prohibit speech which forms part of the identity or personal dignity of groups which have suffered from historical discrimination. This latter recommendation would, among other things, rule out laws which prohibit statements of gay pride, which all too many countries have moved to adopt in recent years.

References
Joint Declaration on Universality and the Right to Freedom of Expression by the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, 6 May 2014 EN
 http://merlin.obs.coe.int/redirect.php?id=17195