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    Module 1: Key Principles of International Law and Freedom of Expression

    Since at least the formation of the United Nations (UN) and the construction of a human rights regime founded in international law in 1948, the right to freedom of expression became universally acknowledged. An example of this universal acknowledgement is found in the case of Madanhire and Another v Attorney General from the Zimbabwean Constitutional Court, where the Court stated that:

    “There can be no doubt that the freedom of expression, coupled with the corollary right to receive and impart information, is a core value of any democratic society deserving of the utmost legal protection.  As such, it is prominently recognised and entrenched in virtually every international and regional human rights instrument.”(1)

    Because the principle of freedom of expression is explicit in so many treaties, soft law instruments, and widely acknowledged in domestic and regional law, it has come to be regarded as a principle of customary international law.(2) Nevertheless, today’s rapidly evolving world is presenting new and unprecedented threats to the full realisation of the right to freedom of expression for many around the world, especially journalists and the media.

    In order for African defenders of freedom of expression to adequately address these new challenges, it is crucial to have a firm understanding of freedom of expression in international and regional law.  This module seeks to provide an overview of the key principles related to freedom of expression in international law, as well as in African regional instruments, and provide a foundation for understanding how to use these principles in the new digitally-connected world.


    1. Zimbabwean Constitutional Court, Constitutional Application No. CCZ 78/12, para. 7 (2014) (accessible at: Back
    2. See article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice (1948) (accessible at which documents the four recognised sources of international law. Back