The freedom to form opinions and express them without fear of repression is a fundamental tenet for the development of a pluralistic, tolerant, and democratic society. This right represents not only the right to privacy of individuals to hold opinions and formulate thoughts, but also to express them in a public forum, especially as part of exercising the right to political participation. In addition, the right to access information, that is the right to seek and receive information, which also forms an important component of this right and which has added significance in the current age of information technology, is intrinsic to the transparent functioning of a democratic government and the effective and well-informed participation of civil society. In this context, freedom of opinion, expression and information is one of the core civil and political rights as it is essential for the exercise of all other human rights.
The right to freedom of opinion, expression and information is well-established and protected at both international and regional levels both legally and institutionally. The right is enshrined in various international instruments, namely: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19), the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (Article 5(d)(viii)), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 13) and the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (Article 6). The main international human rights body within the United Nations system, the Human Rights Council, also provides through its system of special procedures for a Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, which was established in 1993.
Author: Prof Christof Heyns
Professor of Human Rights Law; Co-director, Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa at the University of Pretoria; United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
Many lives have recently been lost in Africa, as in other parts of the world, when demonstrations have turned fatally violent. This has been clearly seen inthe countries of the so-called Arab Spring, but numerous Sub-Saharan countries – Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Malawi and South Africa come to mind – have also experienced violent and indeed deadly marches.
These demonstrations reveal the need to bring the legal and policy regimes that govern such expressions of popular opinion into line with human rights standards.