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Recommendations of the Forum on Freedom of Expression in Africa

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is a 5 July 2006 joint statement by ARTICLE 19 and several other IFEX members, as well as other organisations:

Open letter to African Union Heads of State and Governments

The formation of the African Union (AU) in 2000 raised many hopes for Africa on the continent and in the Diaspora. The main objectives of the Constitutive Act of the AU highlights among others the followings: "to promote the principles and the democratic institutions, popular participation and good governance; to promote and protect human and peoples' rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and other relevant human rights instruments".

These values require the consolidation of democracy, the rule of law, the possibility for African citizens to participate in the management of public affairs, freedom of expression and press freedom.

To underline this option, welcomed by journalists and freedom of expression organisations, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights took the initiative to reinforce the protection of freedom of expression by the adoption of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa in 2002, in Banjul and by the nomination of a Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Expression, during its 36th ordinary session in December 2004 in Dakar.

Despite all these commitments and positive developments, the persecution of journalists, harassments, arbitrary arrests and detentions, the enactments of anti media laws and the killings of journalists and media workers continue with total impunity on the continent.

That is the reason why, journalists and freedom of expression organisations around the continent, committed to the values and the vision of the African Union, wanted to organise a Forum on Freedom of Expression prior to the African Union-Banjul Summit.

The forum scheduled for the 29 - 30 of June 2006, on the eve of the Summit, was barred by the Gambian authorities who ordered the Kombo Beach Hotel manager where the forum was supposed to be held, to suspend it because there was no official authorisation from the government.

This action of the Gambian Authorities is unacceptable and constitutes a blatant violation of the provisions of the Constitutive Act of the African Union. It is contrary the African Union's Head of States and Governments' commitments to human rights and democratic principles.

This behaviour undermines the basis for dialogue between civil society and the African Union on such a fundamental issue as freedom of expression; which is blatantly violated by many of its members notably by the Gambian government host of this important Summit.

We therefore call your attention as the Leaders of the African Union to this dangerous precedent, which should be unacceptable in a country which is hosting the African Union Summit and is the headquarters of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.

The Civil society forum on freedom of expression barred by the Gambian authorities took place in Senegal. We urge you to ensure that the resolutions adopted by the forum will be given due consideration by the African Union leadership. This means ensuring that a delegation from the forum which will be sent in Addis Ababa will be received by the Chairperson of the African Union Commission.

Only by so doing African leaders will demonstrate the commitment of the African Union to denounce and combat harassments of media practitioners and freedom of expression advocates in some African countries.

Recommendations of the Forum of Freedom of Expression in Africa

Preamble

We, the participants of the Forum on Freedom of Expression in Africa meeting in Saly, Senegal under the auspices ARTICLE 19 in partnership with, the Gambia Press Union, Media Foundation for West Africa, Media Institute of Southern Africa, the All Africa Editors Forum, Panos Institute for West Africa, Famedev, the West African Journalist Association, High Way Africa Conference, SABMiller Chair of Media and Democracy and Media Rights Agenda.

- Considering Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
- Considering Article 9 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples' Rights;
- Recalling the Declaration of Windhoek on the development of an African independent and pluralist press;
- Recalling further the African Charter on broadcasting;
- Considering the Constitutive Act of the African Union, notably Article 3 on the promotion of democratic principles and institutions, good governance and human rights;
- Considering the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa of the African Commission on Human and People's Rights;
- Considering the NEPAD plan of action and its provisions on good governance and human rights;
- Considering the resolution on the mandate and the designation of a Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression in Africa;
- Concerned by the killings of journalists in some African countries; and the impunity accorded to the authors of such crimes;
- Concerned by the arbitrary arrest, the selective use of anti-media legislations, the arbitrary closure of media outlets, the adoption of restrictive measures to unduly hinder the right to freedom of expression;
- Further concerned by the absence of dialogue between journalists and freedom of expression defenders and the African Union bodies.
Call on the African Union to:

1. Reinforce the mechanisms protecting freedom of expression, freedom of the press within the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, especially by ensuring the independence of all human rights monitoring mechanisms especially the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression in Africa, African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and the African Court of Human Rights;
2. Adopt a treaty that will reinforce the existing principles on press freedom and freedom of expression in Africa;
3. Encourage member States to initiate reform of legislation that undermine press freedom, pluralism of information and media development in Africa;
4. Take into consideration freedom of expression and press freedom as one of the important criteria in the peer review mechanism of NEPAD;
5. Promote and support an economical, political, and social environment for media development and viability in Africa;
6. Promote the adoption of harmonized norms on public service information and access to public information in Africa;
7. Ensure total independence of media and telecommunications regulatory bodies in Africa, with special regard to the convergence and new technologies of information and communication;
8. Take institutional measures to ensure representation of non governmental media and freedom of expression organizations within ECOSOCC;
9. Adopt criteria and transparent procedures for the accreditation of non- governmental organizations at African Union Summits;
10. Guarantee to civil society access at African Union Summits and the possibility to organize parallel activities in conformity with the Constitutive Act of the African Union;
11. Establish a framework for permanent dialogue and consultation between journalists and freedom of expression organizations and the African Union bodies.

Done in Saly, Senegal, 30 June 2006
The Forum Signatories

Signed by:
ARTICLE 19, the Global Campaign for Free Expression (Senegal/UK)
The Gambia Press Union (GPU) (Gambia)
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) (Ghana)
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) (Namibia)
The African Editors Forum (South Africa)
Panos Institute for West Africa (PIWA) (Senegal)
The Inter African Network for Women, Media, Gender Equity and Development (FAMEDEV) (Senegal)
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)-Africa Office (Senegal)
West African Journalist Association (WAJA) (Senegal/Mali)
The Highway Africa Conference (South Africa )
The SAB Miller Chair of Media and Democracy (South Africa)
Media Rights Agenda (MRA) (Nigeria)
The International Press Centre (IPC), Nigeria
National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (CNLT) (Tunisia)
The Network of African Freedom of Expression Organisations (NAFEO) (Ghana)
Observatoire de la Liberté de presse, de l'Éthique et de la Déontologie (OPEL) (Côte d'Ivoire)
Le démocrate (Niger)
Le Quotidien (Senegal)
Foroyaa (Gambia)
Association Mauritanienne des droits de l'Homme (Mauritania)
Working group on Freedom of Expression in North Africa (Tunisia)
Les Échos du Jour (Benin)
Journalists Union of Cameroon (Cameroon)
Le Messager (Cameroon)
Network for Media for Elections (Cameroon)
National Forum for Human Rights (Sierra Leone)
Coalition for Freedom of Information (Sierra Leone)
Site Media (Burkina Faso)
Nana FM (Togo)
Kiss Radio (Sierra Leone)
Institut Supérieur de Sciences de l'Information et de la Communication (Senegal)
Association for Media Development in Southern Sudan AMDISS) (Southern Sudan)
Le Courier (Mali)
Liberian Bar Association (Liberia)
Centre for Media Studies and Peace Building (Liberia)
Crocodile/OTM (Togo)
Open Society Initiative for West Africa (Senegal)
Open Society Foundation/ Network Media Programme (UK)
Independent, Gambia

ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works around the world to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech.

ARTICLE 19

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