WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY STATEMENT by Advocate Pansy Tlakula, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in Africa
3rd May 2007
World Press Freedom Day is the occasion for all of us in Africa to reflect upon the situation of the right to freedom of expression on the continent, as enshrined, inter alia, in Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which guarantees every individual’s right to receive information, and express and disseminate their opinions. It is further entrenched in the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, which elaborates on the scope of Article 9. To mark this day, it is important for us, not only, to assess the progress that we have made towards the realization of the right to freedom of expression, but also look at the future and together find ways to improve the current situation.
Today, we must particularly rememberthe fundamental importance of freedom of expression and information as an individual human right, as a cornerstone of democracy, and as a means of ensuring respect for all human rights and freedoms. We must also make sure that the importance of the right will not only be emphasized today but indeed every single day of the year.
World Press Freedom Day is also an occasion for me, in my role as Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in Africa, to evaluate the situation of the right since I was appointed on this mandate.
After a year and a half acting as mandate-holder, I am still deeply concerned at the situation on our continent. Indeed, while the media in Africa has surely begun to take up its role as a cornerstone of democracy and source of balanced information in some states, there is clearly still place for improvement. Despite the adoption of the above-mentioned Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa and recent regional instruments, and while there has been some progress in some states regarding the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression, the right is yet to be a reality for many individuals in other parts of the continent.
Unfortunately, the last few years have demonstrated that it remains risky to work as a journalist or media practitioner in certain African States. It is therefore important, as we commemorate this day, to salute media practitioners who risk their lives on a daily basis in order to bring information to the public and ensure that everyone’s right to receive information prevails.
I also wish to lament the fact that harassment, threats and intimidation of media practitioners are still taking place on our beloved continent. Private media establishments deemed critical of the administration in place often face seizure of their publications, destruction of their equipment and eventually closure or suspension. Repressive laws and amendments to existing legislation that limit freedom of expression and the free flow of information are still adopted or in the process of being adopted in some States.
Moreover, it is simply unacceptable that cases of disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention of journalists and media practitioners are still common in Africa. It is also appalling that some media practitioners feel the need to go into hiding for fear of reprisals.
The recent past has also been darkened by allegations of murder of journalists with total impunity. It is therefore crucial that action should be taken against those who commit such crimes. States indeed have to realize the importance of promoting and protecting the full independence of the media. They also have to make sure that journalists and media practitioners are able to practice their profession freely, safely and without fear of reprisals.
Finally, I take this opportunity to recall the Resolution on the Situation of Freedom of Expression in Africa, which was adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights at its 40 th Ordinary Session, which is a manifestation that the enhancement of the right to freedom of expression is of the utmost importance on the Commission’s agenda. I am also echoing the Commission’s call on Member States to collaborate with my mandate in order to enhance respect for the right to freedom of expression on the African continent. In order to achieve this goal, I urge Member States to work towards the effective implementation of the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa and other applicable human rights standards in the region.