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Special Rapporteur's Statement on Declaration of Table Mountain

Special Rapporteur's Statement on Declaration of Table Mountain

Article ID:

15399

Message by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa on the occasion of the signing of the Declaration of Table Mountain

The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Commissioner Pansy Tlakula, welcomes the signing of the Declaration of the Table Mountain (Declaration) by the President of Liberia, H.E Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

This step marks another milestone in the fight for freedom of expression or free speech in Africa, following the signing of the Declaration by the President of Niger, H.E Mahamadou Issoufou. By signing the Declaration, the President of Liberia is showing her commitment towards repealing criminal defamation laws in her country.

As we all know, criminal defamation and insult laws seriously interferes with the right to freedom of expression in general and press freedom in particular, and impedes on the role of the media as a watchdog. Assenting to this Declaration will not only put press freedom high on our agendas, but will also encourage other stakeholders to ensure that the right to freedom of expression is guaranteed and realised. A step forward would be for States Parties to repeal criminal defamation and libel laws from their Constitutions and other national laws.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has shown its commitment to promote and protect freedom of expression by adopting the Declaration on the Principles of Freedom of Expression in 2002.

Principle XII (1) of the Declaration on the Principles of Freedom of Expression provides that;

States should ensure that their laws relating to defamation conform to the following standards:
•    no one shall be found liable for true statements, opinions or statements regarding public figures which it was reasonable to make in the circumstances;
•    public figures shall be required to tolerate a greater degree of criticism; and
•    sanctions shall never be so severe as to inhibit the right to freedom of expression, including by others.

While Principle XIII (1) of the Declaration on the Principles of Freedom of Expression also provides that: “States shall review all criminal restrictions on content to ensure that they serve a legitimate interest in a democratic society.”

It is against this backdrop that the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights African Commission) adopted Resolution ACHPR/Res.174 (XLV111)10: Resolution on Repealing Criminal Defamation Laws in Africa, during its 48th Ordinary Session, held in Banjul, The Gambia from 10 to 24 November 2010.  In the Resolution, the African Commission noted the Declaration of Table Mountain and called on States Parties to repeal criminal defamation laws or insult laws which impede freedom of speech.

As part of her advocacy, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa launched a project to decriminalise libel and defamation laws on 5 May 2012 in the margins of World Press Freedom Day in Tunis, Tunisia. The objective of the project is backed by the fact that, the Declaration commits its signatories and advocates for the right to freedom of expression to work towards decriminalizing such laws. It is hoped that the project will be supported by all stakeholders advocating for this same course, and that related campaigns will be synchronised with the project.

The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa expresses her commitment to realising press freedom in Africa and calls on other States Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to also endorse the Declaration,  following the example of Liberia and Niger.

Author

Larry Kilman's picture

Larry Kilman

Date

2012-07-21 17:18

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