The Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa (the Declaration), adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission) in 2019, has been published. The Declaration replaces the previous Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa which the African Commission adopted in 2002. The Declaration gives effect to Article 9 of the African Charter which provides for freedom of expression and guarantees the right to access and disseminate information.
While the previous Declaration was adopted in order to give substance to Article 9 of the African Charter, the Commission was concerned that “major pertinent issues” arising over the last 2 decades were not sufficiently addressed and this necessitated the adoption of the new Declaration. These issues being, access to information and Article 9 in relation to internet rights. The Declaration forms part of a body of law adopted by the African Commission, which includes the Model Law on Access to Information for Africa and the Guidelines on Access to Information and Elections in Africa, adopted in 2013 and 2017, respectively.
The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Lawrence Mute, issued a statement expressing his hope that states use the Declaration to ensure the rights to freedom of expression and access to information as provided in Article 9. Mute also urged states to consult the Declaration to ensure that their responses to COVID-19 do not violate Article 9. This followed the African Commission’s 24 March statement expressing concern about internet shutdowns during the pandemic. The Commission also noted that Ethiopia and Guinea instituted internet shutdowns in January and March respectively and added that these acts violate the rights enshrined in Article 9. The Commission added that governments have a duty to ensure that the public has access to relevant information on COVID-19.