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International experts call for universal protection of freedom of expression

A view of the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, 17 July 2012
A view of the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, 17 July 2012

REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Today, 6 May 2014, international experts mandated by the UN, African Union, Organization of American States and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe will jointly call for states to ensure that all people in society can realise their right to freedom of expression without discrimination.

The Joint Declaration on the Universality of the Right to Freedom of Expression by the four special rapporteurs, officials appointed to investigate and report on free of expression issues, has been produced with the assistance of ARTICLE 19.

It reiterates the universal nature of freedom of expression, reflected in international and regional general human rights standards and national constitutions and its recognition as a core human value in all major cultural, philosophical and religious traditions around the world. It highlights also the importance open debate about different cultures, values, beliefs and practices can have in promoting understanding and tolerance, and in combating hatred and social division.

"ARTICLE 19 has been alarmed over recent attacks against the universality of the right to freedom of expression in recent years, under the pretext of protecting 'traditional values' in the society. However, such 'values' are often harmful practices, stereotypes and customs. They often stigmatise and legitimise violence against women, religious minorities, people with disabilities or lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people" comments Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

"The 2014 Joint Declaration will be extremely useful to us to defeat such attempts to weak the protection of freedom of speech globally and locally," he added.

Recommendations to states in the joint statement include, but are not limited to:

  • Take concrete and effective steps to modify or eliminate harmful stereotypes, prejudices and practices, including traditional or customary values or practices, which undermine the ability of all individuals and groups in society to enjoy the right to freedom of expression
  • Strengthen obligations on public broadcasters to serve the information and expressive needs of different individuals and groups in society, and to promote understanding and tolerance
  • Refrain from imposing restrictions on freedom of expression unless they meet the minimum test for such restrictions under international law
  • Repeal laws which protect religions against criticism or prohibit the expression of dissenting religious beliefs
  • Combat historical discrimination, prejudices and/or biases which prevent the equal enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression by certain individuals and groups
  • Recognise the importance of the Internet in realising the universality of freedom of expression.

The four international special rapporteurs on freedom of expression are: Frank La Rue, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression; Dunja Mijatovic, the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe; Catalina Botero, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression for the Organisation of American States; and Pansy Tlakula, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information for the African Commission on Human and People's Rights.

The 2014 Joint Declaration is being launched in Paris, France, at the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day International Conference. ARTICLE 19 has been coordinating the drafting of these Joint Declarations since 1999.

Read the full declaration.

For previous Joint Declarations please click here.

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