African Regional Instruments
Module 1: Key Principles of International Law and Freedom of Expression
A number of regional instruments guarantee the right to freedom of expression in Africa. For example, article 9 of the African Charter provides for it as follows:
“1. Every individual shall have the right to receive information.
2. Every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law.”(1)
Oversight and interpretation of the African Charter is the sole domain of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), which was established in 1987. A protocol to the African Charter was adopted in 1998 which created an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACtHPR), and which came into effect in 2005.(2)
It should be noted that reference to “within the law” in article 9(2) the African Charter should not be seen as permitting states to enact laws that violate the right to freedom of expression. The ACHPR made clear in Constitutional Rights Project v Nigeria(3) that “[g]overnment[s] should avoid restricting rights, and take special care with regard to those rights protected by constitutional or international human rights law. No situation justifies the wholesale violation of human rights.”
The right to freedom of expression is further underscored in the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa (revised in 2019), and the ACHPR Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa.(4)
There are also a number of sub-regional instruments that engage the right to freedom of expression, such as the Treaty Establishing the East African Community (EAC),(5) the Revised Treaty of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the Protocol on Culture, Information and Sport of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Other regional bodies also provide useful guidance on how to interpret the right to freedom of expression. For example, the European Court of Human Rights has published a Case-Law Guide(6) providing insight into the decisions of the Court pertaining to article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which deals with freedom of expression. Likewise, the Inter‑American Court of Human Rights provides a jurisprudence booklet on freedom of expression.(7)