Building peace in the minds of men and women

African judges call for capacity-building on freedom of expression issues

05 November 2019

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President of the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights, Hon. Sylvain Oré (blue suit, front row, centre) led the co-hosting of the seminar with UNESCO.
© UNESCO

A two-day seminar on “Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists for Judges in Africa”, organized by UNESCO and the  GIZ last week, concluded with a call for more capacity-building at country level about judicial standards on freedom of expression and safety of journalists.

The seminar was organized in partnership with the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, on the occasion of the 2019 edition of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (IDEI), which is commemorated annually on 2 November and falls under the global framework for the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

Involved in the deliberations were 13 Chief Justices from African Supreme Courts, and another 27 judges, lawyers, as well as representatives of civil society.

Participants urged more engagements at country level, including meetings between the judiciary and members of the media.

During the two-day event 28 – 29 October, they discussed the international and regional legal framework underpinning the right to freedom of expression, access to information, and the safety of journalists, and also explored judicial challenges raised by digitalization and social media.

In his speech, the president of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Hon. Sylvain Ore paid tribute to journalists as human rights defenders and urged the judiciary to support and ensure the protection of their freedom. Journalists, he said, “are the natural defenders of human rights and have contributed to the defence of fundamental rights”.

In his speech, the Chief Justice of Uganda, Hon. Bart Magunda Katureebe observed that freedom of expression is core to all human rights and therefore impacts on the decisions of courts. He noted that international, regional and national protocols and provisions ably recognize freedom of expression.

“Freedom of expression has benefitted us and enabled organizations to thrive. This seminar gives us a chance to deepen these synergies and continue with the defense of freedom of expression”, he said.

Social media is one area that requires constructive dialogue on its usage and impact on freedom of expression, said the Chief Justice. He called for synergies among organizations working on freedom of expression as a means of maintaining dialogue on this important issue.

In his presentation, the Director of Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO Headquarters, Mr Guy Berger highlighted the context of the Sustainable Development Goals, Agenda 2063 of the African Union, and the importance of building Knowledge Societies.

“Freedom of expression and safety of journalists are fundamental tenets of peace, justice and strong institutions and preconditions for achieving developmental objectives,” he said.

Berger also called for legal systems to combat impunity for crimes against journalists:  “It is important that impunity does not stand, because if those who attack journalists will know that there are consequences, this can be a deterrent against attacks”.

The seminar covered regional jurisprudence including at the ECOWAS Court of Justice and the East African Court, and access to legal resources about standards for protecting freedom of expression. Participants tackled the question of how to interpret the provisions on freedom of expression in the African Charter and at the UN level.

The seminar follows previous projects to reinforce judiciaries on issues related to freedom of expression, such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) that resulted in the training of more than 1,800 judicial actors in Africa. It also builds on insights from an earlier seminar in Arusha, Tanzania in 2016, jointly organized by UNESCO and the African Court, as well as on another seminar organized by the African Court, ECOWAS Court and the East African Court of Justice (EACJ), on 2 November 2018.

The judges’ seminar took place ahead of the 4th African Union (AU) Judicial Dialogue between 30 October to 1 November 2019, and at which UNESCO further highlighted the right to freedom of expression. A parallel Forum produced the Kampala Declaration, agreed between the African Court, the European Court of Human Rights, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

That declaration calls for online learning courses on various aspects aimed at protecting human rights, and knowledge sharing on topical human rights issues.