Module 9: National Security
“National security”(1) is one of the most common justifications offered by states for limiting freedom of expression by journalists, bloggers, and media organs. It is a legitimate restriction on fundamental rights and freedoms in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)(2) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR),(3) provided it is not misused. While the ACHPR does not contain an explicit national security limitation on freedom of expression, article 9 does state that it is to be exercised “within the law” and article 29(3) states that an individual has a general duty “not to compromise the security of the State whose national or resident he is.”(4)
It is therefore a matter of debate how the legitimacy of a limitation on freedom of expression on grounds of national security should be assessed. Exceptionally, the right to freedom of expression can be partly or wholly suspended — a process known as derogation — because of a grave, imminent security threat. However, the national security limitation also has the potential to be relied upon to quell dissent and cover up state abuses.
This module examines how the derogation process is treated under international and regional human rights law.