Module 1: Key Principles of International Law and Freedom of Expression
The United Nations enshrined the right to freedom of expression in international law in 1948 with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” This was the foundation of what later became article 19 of the ICCPR.
The ICCPR is not the only treaty in the United Nations framework to guarantee the right to freedom of expression. For instance:
- Article 15(3) of the ICESCR specifically refers to the freedom required for scientific research and creative activity, providing: “The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to respect the freedom indispensable for scientific research and creative activity.”
- Articles 12 and 13 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) contain extensive protections relating to the right to freedom of expression enjoyed by children.
- Article 21 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) contains extensive protections relating to freedom of expression and access to information.
It is therefore clear that the right to freedom of expression is firmly entrenched within the United Nations system, both as an important right on its own, as well as a crucial enabling right. For example, General Comment No. 25, in the context of the right to participate in public affairs, voting rights and the right of equal access to public service, noted:
“Citizens can also take part in the conduct of public affairs by exerting influence through public debate and dialogue with their representatives or through their capacity to organize themselves. This participation is supported by ensuring freedom of expression, assembly and association.”(1)
South and Southeast Asia have only rather limited regional human rights systems and no human rights court. However, the UN human rights system has various means for protecting human rights, including freedom of expression, globally, including in these regions.
For more on the UN mechanisms, see Module 11 of this course.