Faith Pansy Tlakula

Activities as Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information


    Activity Report of the Special Rapporteur
    on Freedom of Expression in Africa

     41st Ordinary Session,
    Accra
    - Ghana  16 – 30 June, 2007

     

    Report on the situation of Freedom of Expression in Africa

     

    Introduction

     

    1. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission) was established by virtue of Article 30 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter)[1] with the specific mandate to promote human and peoples’ rights and ensure their protection in Africa.[2]

    2. The promotional mandate[3] of the African Commission involves education and sensitisation with the view to create a culture of respect for human rights on the continent. Under this mandate, the African Commission undertakes research and documentation, disseminates information through workshops, seminars and symposiums, formulates principles to address legal problems of human rights and cooperates with African and international human rights institutions.

    3. The protective mandate[4] of the African Commission entails essentially the receipt and consideration of complaints alleging human rights violations. These complaints (commonly referred to as communications) can be submitted by individuals, NGOs or States Parties to the African Charter alleging that a State Party has violated the rights contained therein.

    4. In addition to these two main mandates, the African Commission is also empowered to interpret the Charter at the request of a state party, the AU, or an institution recognized by the AU.[5]

    This report describes the activities of the African Commission in the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression in Africa, and the situation of the enjoyment of this right on the continent.

     

    Freedom of Expression in the African Charter

     

    5.      Under Article 9, the African Charter guarantees every individual the right to receive information and express and disseminate his/her opinions within the law. Although this freedom is considered as the corner stone of development, its protection under the African Charter has been considered severely watered down by the claw-back clause inserted within the same Article.


    The African Commission and Freedom of expression in Africa

     

    6. Cognizant of the importance of upholding respect for the right to freedom of expression to the nurturing of democracy, human rights and sustainable development, and faced with many violations of the right to freedom of expression, the African Commission has, through the years, adopted various measures to strengthen the promotion and protection of this right.

    7. One of the first initiatives taken by the African Commission was through pronouncements and recommendations made in the context of individual communications. The African Commission has through its communication procedure and the broad interpretation powers it enjoys under the African Charter developed jurisprudence on human and peoples’ rights in general, and the right to freedom of expression, in particular. Under this procedure, the African Commission is not limited to the African Charter but can also draw inspiration from international human rights law, the Charter of the UN, the Constitutive Act of the African Union, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other instruments.[6]

    8. Accordingly, the African Commission has held that competent authorities should not enact provisions which limit the exercise of the freedom guaranteed under Article 9 of the African Charter in a manner that override constitutional provisions or undermine fundamental rights guaranteed by the latter and other international human rights documents.[7] It underlined that States could only impose necessary restrictions to rights protected by constitutional or international human rights instruments and that no situation warranted the wholesale violation of human rights.[8]

    9. Further, under a separate communication,[9] the African Commission found that the payment of prohibitive registration fees as precondition to the registration of newspapers was essentially a restriction on the publication of news media and a violation of freedom of expression.

    10. The African Commission has also dealt with issues of freedom of expression in Africa through resolutions, declarations and by promoting dialogue with Member States during consideration of States Reports, or during promotional and fact-finding missions undertaken to Member States by its Members.

    11. Through these and other decisions on communications, the African Commission has emphasized that the protection offered to individuals through the African Charter cannot be undermined by restrictive protections at the domestic level. As such, the African Commission has called, and continues to call on Member States found in violation of Article 9 of the African Charter to amend/change their municipal laws/practices that affect the right to freedom of expression and bring them into conformity with the said Article.

    12. Pronouncements and/or recommendations within the context of communications, however, were not sufficient to content the African Commission, which still saw the lacuna that existed in the African Continent in the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression under the province of Article 9, whose enjoyment plays an important role in ensuring the realisation of all the other rights and freedoms guaranteed by the African Charter.

    13. Thus, at its 26th Ordinary Session, the African Commission decided to hold a seminar on “Freedom of Expression and the African Charter”. This was also motivated by the recognition, on the part of the African Commission and its partners, of the lack of continental strategies for an effective protection of the freedoms under Article 9 of the African Charter and the increasing number of reports and/or communications received by the African Commission.[10]

    14. Organised in collaboration with Article 19,[11] this Seminar was held in South Africa from 22nd – 25th November 2000. It was attended by representatives of States Parties to the African Charter, National Human Rights Institutions, Non-Governmental Organisations and the Media. It examined the nature and content of the right to freedom of expression under Article 9 of the African Charter, reviewed its practical observance on the continent, and made recommendations on strategies for enforcement with particular reference to the role of the African Commission.

    15. Among its recommendations, the Seminar called upon the African Commission, among other things, to adopt a Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression (the Declaration of Principles) and to appoint a Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression or establish other appropriate mechanism to assist the African Commission better review and monitor adherence to freedom of expression standards.

    16. Subsequent to this Seminar, the African Commission passed a Resolution on Freedom of Expression at its 29th Ordinary Session held in Tripoli, Libya. In that Resolution,[12] the African Commission decided to:

     

    1. Develop and adopt a Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression to elaborate and expound the nature, content and extent of the right to freedom of expression under Article 9 of the African Charter;
    2. Establish an appropriate mechanism to assist it to review and monitor adherence to freedom of expression standards in general and the Declaration in particular, and to investigate violations and make appropriate recommendations to the African Commission;
    3. Hold periodic meetings with NGOs and African journalists to review progress in guaranteeing freedom of expression across the continent and in implementing the Declaration of Principles.

    17. With a view to putting in place these recommendations, the African Commission established, at its 30th Ordinary Session, a Working Group (WG) to elaborate on the recommended Declaration of Principles. The latter consisted of members of the African Commission[13] and NGO partners.

    18. At its 32nd Ordinary Session held in Banjul, The Gambia in October 2002, the African Commission adopted, by Resolution, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa.[14] The Declaration is a result of combined efforts of many stakeholders working on freedom of expression on the continent. It sets out important benchmarks and elaborates on the precise meaning and scope of the guarantees of freedom of expression laid down under Article 9 of the African Charter. The Declaration has on the whole, been widely welcomed by human rights and media advocates in Africa.

    19. Following this adoption, the African Commission, at its 33rd Ordinary Session, decided to appoint one of its members as the focal person responsible for overseeing activities relating to the implementation of the Declaration.

    20. The Focal Person held a Consultative Meeting with various stake holders on the follow-up of the Declaration of Principles in Johannesburg, South Africa from 14th – 15th August 2003. Also in attendance were members of the African Commission, the co-organiser Article 19, human rights specialists from NGOs and intergovernmental institutions, and representatives of the academia. The meeting explored several issues including the appropriate monitoring mechanism that could be adopted by the African Commission to identify and deal with major threats to freedom of expression, the African Commission’s ability to establish and sustain such a mechanism, and the ways of implementing the Declaration of Principles, among others. It recommended that the African Commission appoints an external Special Rapporteur while maintaining an internal Focal Person on freedom of expression.

    21. At its 34th Ordinary Session held from 6th – 20th November 2003, the African Commission decided to maintain the mandate of the Focal Person while continuing to reflect on, in collaboration with its partners, a long term strategy to establish an independent monitoring mechanism.

    22. From 19th – 20th February 2004, the African Commission, in collaboration with Article 19, organised the first Africa Conference on Freedom of Expression[15] which aimed at raising awareness about the implementation of the Declaration of Principles and discussing key issues relating to freedom of expression at the national level.[16]

    23. At its 35th Ordinary Session held in Banjul, The Gambia from 21st May to 4th June, the African Commission endorsed the recommendations of the Johannesburg Consultative Meeting on Freedom of Expression held in Johannesburg in August 2003 and the African Conference on Freedom of Expression held in Pretoria in February 2004. It also resolved to establish an office of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and urged the Focal Person to develop a mandate for the latter and present it to the 36th Ordinary Session.

    24. The Focal Person, working in collaboration with partners of the African Commission, presented the requested draft mandate to the African Commission at its 36th Ordinary Session held from 23rd November to 7th December 2004 in Dakar, Senegal. The African Commission adopted the document and appointed[17] one of its members as Special Rapporteur of Freedom of Expression in Africa.

    25. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur includes:
    1. Analysing national media legislation, policies and practice within Member States, monitoring their compliance with freedom of expression standards in general and the   Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in particular, and advising Member States accordingly;
    2. Undertaking investigative missions to Member States where reports of massive violations of the right to freedom of expression are made and making appropriate recommendations to the African Commission;
    3. Undertaking country Missions and any other promotional activity that would strengthen the full enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression in Africa;
    4. Making public interventions where violations of the right to freedom of expression have been brought to his/her attention. This could be in the form of issuing public statements, press releases, urgent appeals;
    5. Keeping a proper record of violations of the right to freedom of expression and publishing this in his/her reports submitted to the African Commission; and
    6. Submitting reports at each Ordinary Session of the African Commission on the status of the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression in Africa.

    26. Pursuant to the appointment of the Special Rapporteur, the latter set out on a campaign to raise awareness on his mandate and the Declaration of Principles. Accordingly, copies of the Declaration of Principles and the Resolution on the Mandate and Appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in Africa were forwarded to all Member States of the African Union. With assistance from Article 19, the Declaration of Principles was published[18] in English and French and continues to be widely distributed by both the Special Rapporteur and the Secretariat of the African Commission.

    27. The Special Rapporteur also visited the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) at the Organisation of American States Headquarters in Washington, D.C. from 28th February to 4th March 2005. He held meetings with members of the IACHR and its Secretariat, which was aimed at commencing a fruitful dialogue between the two mechanisms on freedom of expression issues. 

    28. The Secretariat of the African Commission continues to compile petitions and/or allegations of violations of freedom of expression in various countries in Africa, with a view to enable the Special Rapporteur plan his activities efficiently.

     

    The Situation of Freedom of Expression in African

     

    29. With respect to the situation of freedom of expression in Africa, the African Commission, since the formal decision of the African Commission to fully engage with the issue as a matter of thematic concern, allegations of violations of the freedom of expression continue to reach the latter. These allegations included:

    1. Government harassment and physical assault of journalists;
    2. Criminalisation of the exercise of the freedom through harsh press laws;
    3. The use of antiterrorism laws to shutter media houses;
    4. Imposition of extreme censure measures against journalistic publications;
    5. Imprisonment of journalists;
    6. Extra-judicial killing/murder of journalists;
    7. Inconclusive and/or extremely delayed investigations into such killings by authorities;
    8. Arson attacks against private papers establishments;
    9. Closing down of independent newspapers and/or media houses; and
    10. Use of law and order (or national security) to muzzle the independent press; etc.

    30. However, the continent has also registered some positive developments in the protection and promotion of freedom of expression. For example, a new draft law is being discussed in Mozambique with a view to making freedom of information a reality for all Mozambicans (in June 2005), a positive policy trend in Tanzania containing a number of commendable commitments to bringing Tanzanian law and practice into line with international standards (in February 2004), and a landmark judgement by the Ugandan Supreme Court declaring that the offence of "publishing false news" was incompatible with the right to freedom of expression and information (in Feb 2004).

    31. In addition to following up matters/trends through its Special Rapporteur, the African Commission continues to entertain communications alleging violations of Article 9 of the African Charter in AU Member States:

    1. Communication 275/2003 – Article 19/Eritrea, which involves the case of 18 Eritrean journalists;
    2. Communication 284/2003 – Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe/Zimbabwe, which involves the closure of a newspaper in Zimbabwe;
    3. Communication 294/2004 – Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Institute for Human Rights and Development/Zimbabwe, which involves the individual’s right to freedom of expression and freedom to disseminate ideas; and
    4. Communication 297/2005 – Scanlen & Holderness/Zimbabwe, which involves independent journalists and an access to information Act in Zimbabwe.

     

    The Way Forward

     

    32. Due to the lack of adequate human and financial support, the Special Rapporteur faces difficulties in carrying out his mandate. As a result, the Special Rapporteur has not been able to undertake Missions, country/regional studies and respond to the myriad of appeals for interventions from alleged victims of violations of freedom of expression.

    33. This, however, needs to be urgently addressed in order for the work of the Special Rapporteur to influence any positive change in Member States. For instance, the assignment of a legal officer to work specifically with the Special Rapporteur would help as the latter’s ability to respond could be more focused and timely. The development of the capacity of his mandate to launch urgent appeals and investigate allegations of violations of the right to freedom of expression should also be paid due attention. This will later reflect in the increased annual and thematic report the Special Rapporteur will issue, in the number of country visits he undertakes, and the influence he garners to induce change towards the protection and respect for the right to freedom of expression.

    34. In addition to Member States of the African Union that have the duty to promote and protect freedom of expression in their respective jurisdictions, the African Commission continues to collaborate with Non-Governmental Organisations[19], National Human Rights Institutions, law enforcement authorities, universities, academics, independent media out-lets and/or individuals interested in the promotion of the right to freedom of expression in Africa.

     

     



    [1]               African [Banjul] Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, adopted by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government (AHSG) of the Organisation of African Union (OAU) (now African Union - AU) meeting in Nairobi, Kenya on 26th June 1981, OAU Doc. CAB/LEG/67/3 rev. 5, 21 I.L.M. 58 (1982). It entered into force on 21st October 1986. The AHSG elected the first members of the African Commission in July 1987.

    [2]               Article 30 of the African Charter. Today, all members of the African Union, except Morocco, are party to the African Charter.

    [3]              Article 45 (1)(a)(b)(c) of the African Charter.

    [4]              Article 45(2) of the African Charter.

    [5]              Article 45(3) of the African Charter.

    [6]              Article 60 of the African Charter.

    [7]              Communication 102/93 against Nigeria.

    [8]              Ibid.

    [9]              Communication 152/96, also against Nigeria.

    [10]             Prior to this, however, the African Commission had held a seminar on “Journalists and Human Rights in Africa” in Tunis, Tunisia from 31st October to 1st November 1992, which did not fully address the above-mentioned concerns.

    [11]             An NGO with observer status before the African Commission.

    [12]             Annexed here as Annex I.

    [13]           Commissioners Andrew Chigovera, Jainaba Johm and Barney Pityna.

    [14]             Annexed here as Annex II.

    [15]             This was in Pretoria, South Africa.

    [16]              Participants were drawn from Member States of the African Union, National Human Rights Institutions, Academia, National Media Regulatory Bodies, Human Rights NGOs, and Media Organisations

    [17]             The Resolution on the Mandate and Appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in Africa is annexed herewith as Annex III. Commissioner Andrew Chigovera was appointed Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in Africa for the remainder of his term as Commissioner which ends in November 2005.

    [18]             With the assistance of Article 19.

    [19]             Such as Article 19.

     

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