A Reference Group made up civil society organizations from across Africa has been constituted to lead the process of revising the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa under the direction and guidance of Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Commissioner Lawrence Mute.
The Reference Group is made up of the African Platform on Access to Information (APAI) with its secretariat in Kampala, Uganda; the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), in Johannesburg, South Africa; the Centre for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria, also in South Africa; the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) with its Africa office in Abuja; the Centre for Reproductive Rights in Nairobi, Kenya; Media Rights Agenda (MRA) in Lagos, Nigeria; the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet) in Nairobi; the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) in Accra, Ghana; the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) with its Secretariat in Dakar, Senegal; and the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa.
The constitution of the Reference Group was announced by Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of MRA, on behalf of the Co-Chairs of the Experts and Stakeholders Meeting on the Revision of the Declaration of Principles held on April 22, 2018 in Nouakchott, Mauritania, ahead of the 62nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The meeting was co-chaired by Commissioner Mute and Mr. Ojo. The Experts and Stakeholders Meeting itself was convened by the Special Rapporteur in collaboration with MFWA, KICTANet and MRA, with support from Global Partners Digital (GPD) in London.
Mr. Ojo said he was announcing the constitution of the Reference Group following consultations between the Co-chairs, namely himself and Commissioner Mute, who is also the Vice Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, based in Banjul, The Gambia.
The Experts and Stakeholders Meeting brought together freedom of expression and access to information advocates on the African continent as well as other stakeholders to discuss proposals on the process and strategies for undertaking the revision of the Declaration of Principles. It was also attended by Mr. Guy Berger, Director of Freedom of Expression and Media Development at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.
Mr. Berger pledged UNESCO’s support for the consultative process and offered to help make expertise available for the envisaged revision.
He proposed that the new issues that should be covered in the revised Declaration could include matters like the fair allocation of radio frequencies, including wireless internet and broadcast sectors; the role of online intermediaries, media online, and media and information literacy.
He also presented the findings of the recent UNESCO report on World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development, highlighting its value in the context of the proposed revision of the Declaration. He noted that issues of Internet shut-downs, blocking and filtering, arbitrary surveillance, protection of confidentiality of journalists’ sources in the digital age, and the safety of journalists online were covered in the Report.
Following the conclusion of the Experts and Stakeholders Meeting, the Special Rapporteur outlined the priorities and timelines for the process of revising the Declaration of Principles, which included:
- The constitution of the Reference Group on the Revision of the Declaration on the Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa by May 22;
- The preparation of a draft technical paper detailing the proposed revisions, guided by the conclusions of the experts’ meeting by mid-June 2018;
- The circulation of the draft paper for feedback before finalization by the end of June 2018;
- The preparation of a draft of the revised principles by end of July 2018;
- The publication of the draft of the revised principles of on the Commission’s website for feedback as part of public consultation over a period of two months, to terminate by mid-September 2018;
- The revision of the draft of the revised principles on basis of the feedback received by the end of September 2018;
- An initial presentation of the draft revised principles to the African Commission at its second Ordinary Session, which will take place in October 2018;
- A final subsequent revision in good time for presentation to the Commission for adoption at next year’s (2019) first Extra-ordinary Session or at the latest, at the Commission’s first Ordinary Session that year.
Commissioner Mute said although the proposed timelines are tight, they are based on the assumption that that some of participants at the experts meeting will offer both technical and political leadership and that the resources required for the exercise will be available to support the necessary activities that will arise from the project.