Advocate Pansy Tlakula, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, has called on African countries to amend their constitutions and laws in order to bring them in line with regional and international standards on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information (ATI). She also urged those countries that already have freedom of expression and access to information laws to adopt implementing legislations to give effects to those rights.
Advocate Tlakula who is also the Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) made the call while presenting her Inter-Session Activity Report at the 58th Ordinary Session of the Commission which held between April 6 and 20, 2016 in Banjul, Islamic Republic of the Gambia.
During her presentation, Advocate Tlakula pointed out that “In 2010, when the process of the development of the Model Law on Access to Information in Africa began, only (5) AU Member States had adopted access to information laws. By 2015, seventeen (17) had adopted laws.”
The Special Rapporteur encouraged state parties considering the adoption of ATI laws to ensure implementation of this right as provided in Article 9(1) of the African Charter. She also commended Togo for the enactment of its Freedom of Information and Public Documentation Law which was passed in March 2016.
The Special Rapporteur reaffirmed the fundamental importance of freedom of expression as stated in the African Commission’s Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa. She asserted the place of this individual human right as a cornerstone of democracy and called for state parties to guarantee these rights by developing concrete strategies to ensure their implementation.
In the same vein, she urged member states to amend their laws and constitutions in order to bring them in line with regional and international standards on freedom of expression and access to information or adopt implementing legislation giving effect to these rights. She also stated that laws already in existence should not limit these rights and as such, there is a need to abolish or relax laws that include elements such as criminal defamation, criminal libel, sedition and all other laws that threaten media freedom and criminalise freedom of expression in Africa, including those laws that prohibit the publication of false news.
The Special Rapporteur commended the Zimbabwean Supreme Court decision declaring the country’s defamation laws unconstitutional.
The Special Rapporteur and Chairperson of the ACHPR finally urged State Parties to develop or adopt ATI laws in line with the Commission’s ‘Model Law on Access to Information in Africa’ and to educate citizens of their rights through awareness raising campaigns, publications and joint advocacy initiatives, among others.