On 11 and 12 July 2019, the Democracy, Transparency and Digital Rights Unit at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, participated in the first regional consultation of the revision of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa. The regional consultation meeting, covering only Lusophone countries in Africa, was held in Maputo and was organised by the Mozambique chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA).
The Declaration is being revised pursuant to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission) Resolution 222, Resolution 350 and Resolution 362 that gave the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa (the Special Rapporteur) the mandate to revise the Declaration. The revision takes into account developments that had taken place in the area of freedom of expression, access to information and the digital age in the context of article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Dr Ololade Shyllon (the drafter), Hlengiwe Dube and Ericino de Salema represented the technical drafting team.
The consultation meeting was to enable the stakeholders in the Lusophone countries to review the Draft Declaration and provide comments that would improve its quality and substance. Representatives from government, the media, academia, NGOs and other stakeholders attended the meeting. The technical drafting team outlined the essence of the revision of the Declaration and the steps taken that led to the development of the draft under review. Comments and proposals were made regarding the proposed principles. Some of the comments raised were technical, such as the translation of the Portuguese version of the draft. On the substance of the draft, issues raised include the criminalisation of free speech, national security vis-à-vis access to information and freedom of expression, hate speech on social media platforms, ownership of media outlets by political parties and religious groups, and the promotion of private media (especially in marginalised areas). In addition, participants emphasised the need for robust advocacy initiatives to promote the progressive norms and standards articulated in the Declaration and to facilitate its implementation.
Prior to the Maputo meeting, the public had an opportunity to provide input on the Draft Declaration and submit comments to the African Commission secretariat. The Special Rapporteur launched the public consultation phase during the African Commission’s 64th Ordinary Session in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt in May and closed on 1 July 2019. The objective of the consultations was to elicit for comments with a view to strengthening the content and substance of the Draft Declaration and to ensure that the process was transparent and legitimate. Subsequent to the Lusophone consultation, the Draft Declaration was presented to the African Commission on 26 July 2019, in Banjul by the technical drafting team: Dr Ololade Shyllon, Maxwell Kadiri and Fatou Jagne. This was to appraise the Africa Commission of the progress that has been made in revising the Declaration and to inform them of the subsequent steps leading to its adoption. The Centre provided logistical support. Two more consultations will be held in Southern Africa and West Africa before the adoption, which is envisaged to be in October 2019 during the 65th Ordinary Session of the African Commission.
This revision of the Declaration is part of the Centre’s support to the mandate of the African Commission’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in developing and enhancing the normative framework of freedom of expression and access to information as provided for in article 9 of the African Charter.
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