A Pan-African Conference on freedom of expression and access to information has called on African governments to adopt policy and legal measures to guarantee, respect and protect citizens’ right to information and freedom of expression through access to affordable Internet services.
This and other recommendations were made at the conference held to review the state of freedom of expression and access to information in Africa and the achievements made in implementing African Union instruments concerning freedom of expression and access to information in Africa
In reviewing the state of freedom of expression and access to information in Africa, the conference made wide ranging recommendations targeted at various stakeholders based on its observation of the situation.
Acknowledging the efforts to guarantee human rights in general and freedom of expression, right to access online and offline information and the right to privacy and data protection jointly made by the African Union and the European Union in the last decade, it pointed out that there is still a gap between policy pronouncements and practice on the ground.
It lamented that cases of violence, attacks, harassment and undue prosecution of journalists, media workers, and human rights defenders are on the rise, in addition to continued retention by state of laws that are inimical to the international human rights obligations. These, the Conference observed, has resulted in shrinking civic space, recession in democratic practice and a high number of journalists and human rights who have been killed or forced into exile.
Participants reaffirmed the fundamental right to freedom of expression and access to online and offline information, as enshrined under in global and regional charters
Welcomed the commitment of both the African Union and European Union to promote the right of freedom of expression and access to online and offline information in their 2014-2017 Roadmap;
Acknowledged that 22 African Union member states have so far adopted comprehensive freedom of information laws and 16 states have adopted data protection laws;
Expressed deep concern by the threats, harassment, intimidation, physical violence and even killings of journalists continue while carrying out their journalism work;
Deeply disturbed by the continued violation of the rights of human rights defenders in the various sub-regions of Africa, in their efforts to promote and protect universal right to freedom of expression, where they are routinely subjected to harassment, stigmatisation, arbitrary arrest, unfair trials and torture;
Welcomed the recent ruling by the African Court of Human Rights in a freedom of expression case.
Participants asked the African Union (AU) to support or initiate processes and mechanisms that ensures that its Commission and its other bodies establish clear and comprehensive access to information framework.
They also asked the AU to popularise ratification, support for, and implementation of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, and the five other treaties that recognise the right to information.
The AU was also asked to support ratification and implementation of laws and practices that protect the right to privacy and data protection, beginning with the African Convention on Cybersecurity and Personal Data Protection and processes that will facilitate AU member states to make special declarations allowing citizens, civil society organisations direct access to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights.
The conference called on the European Union (EU) to support programmes, initiatives and platforms for civil society organisations working in Africa including those combating, corruption, violence, persecution, harassment and intimidation of individuals, including journalists and other media actors, because of their exercise of the right to freedom of expression online and offline and contribute to end impunity for these crimes
They also called on the EU to support civil society initiatives working on laws and practices that protect freedom of opinion and online and offline expression; laws and practices that protect the right to privacy and data protection; laws and practices that protect the right of access to information; and on media freedom, diversity and pluralism and foster an understanding among public officials, especially security agencies and judicial officials, and other government on the role of the media in a democratic society;
Ensure that human rights including freedom of online expression, right to privacy and right to access online and offline information, are properly integrated/mainstreamed in trade policies and programmes
Participants called on AU states to bring an immediate end to all forms of harassment, intimidation and attacks on journalists and advocates of freedom of online and offline expression; ensure that domestic legislations conform with African and international standards of freedom of expression; and initiate thorough, impartial and effective investigations into killings of journalists to tackle impunity of crimes committed against journalists.
They also encouraged African governments to implement, in good faith and expeditiously, decisions and rulings of the African Commission of Human and People’s Rights and the African Court of Human and People’s Rights respectively as well as other such bodies.
Thy asked African governments to adopt policy and legal measures to guarantee, respect and protect citizens’ right to information and freedom of expression through access to affordable Internet services.
Civil society and all media organisations were called upon to support the professionalization of media in their respective countries and across the nations; to develop programmes that utilise access to information as a tool to enhance public service delivery as espoused in AU Agenda 2063 and the UN SDGS; provide equitable access to airwaves to diverse groups irrespective of their political affiliations, gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation etc; and develop clear safety and protection protocols for journalists in general and women journalist in particular.
In addition, civil society media organisations were asked to provide an environment for journalists, media workers and other professional to freely organise, assemble and participate in trade union activities without undue restrictions; to promote media pluralism and diversity and any regulatory actions must seek to promote and protect media freedom; and engage and dialogue with businesses/corporates to embrace and implement the UN Guidelines on Business and Human Rights (Ruggie Principles) with special focus on freedom of expression, right to privacy and data protection;
They also called on CSO to promote media education and public awareness as part of the process of citizen mobilisation for the defence of freedom of online and offline expression and on media owners to commit to paying journalists and media workers a living wages.
Organised by the AU-EU Civil Society Steering Committee on Human Rights and Democratic Governance and hosted by the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), the Conference brought over 50 civil society leaders from 29 countries together. It took place in Kampala, Uganda on March 25-26, 2017.