Columbia Global Freedom of Expression seeks to contribute to the development of an integrated and progressive jurisprudence and understanding on freedom of expression and information around the world. It maintains an extensive database of international case law. This is its newsletter dealing with recent developments in the field.
The 2022 Significant Legal Ruling Prize will be awarded to the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for its ruling in Amnesty International & Ors v. The Togolese Republic.
The 2022 Excellence in Legal Services Prize will go to the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) for their legal assistance and advocacy on behalf of Jineth Bedoya Lima in the case of Bedoya Lima v. Colombia.
Community Highlights and Recent News
● Upcoming Event:Chapter 2: Universal Human Rights Standards and International Case-Law related to the Protection of Journalists. Join Columbia Global Freedom of Expression for the second in a series of 6 workshops on the protection of journalists. The second workshop will focus on the universal human rights standards and existing international case-law related to the protection of journalists. Ramiro Alvarez Ugarte (Centro de Estudios en Libertad de Expresión) will moderate a discussion between Toby Mendel (Centre for Law and Democracy), Joel Simon (Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia Journalism School) and Silvia Chocarro (ARTICLE 19) on this issue from the perspective of the United Nations as well as the Inter-American and the European systems of human rights. They will also share their viewpoints on the main global challenges to freedom of expression related to violence against journalists. The event will take place online Friday, 25 February 2022 from 10:00AM – 11:00 AM ET. Register for the online event here.
● Upcoming Event: “Digital Services Act: What can the US learn from the EU?” Join the Niejelow Rodin Global Digital Futures Policy Forum at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs for a discussion about the Digital Services Act (DSA), the European Union’s latest effort to create a safer digital space, which is part of a legislative package to strengthen transparency of online platforms and protect the fundamental rights of users. The panel will examine the DSA and what could be incorporated into legislative efforts by the United States to effectively regulate online platforms. Wednesday, 2 March at 12:00PM ET. Register for the online event here.
● Upcoming Event: “Upholding the Rule of Law in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.” UNESCO is launching a new Massive Open Online Course for judicial actors. The course will explore the digitalization of justice systems; the opportunities and risks with the increasing adoption of AI technologies across justice systems and contexts such as online courts; as well as AI’s impact in the administration of justice, particularly in regard to human rights and evolving AI ethics and governance issues. This free course, available in 7 languages, will launch on 14 March 2022 and will last for six weeks. Learn more about the course, watch a promotional video, and register here.
● Strasbourg Observers has launched its annual poll for Best and Worst ECtHR Judgment and Best Separate Option of 2021. They provide a shortlist of what they consider to be the five best and five worst ECtHR judgments of 2021 and the five best separate opinions of 2021, along with background information on those candidates. They invite you to cast your vote for a judgment where the Court made a particularly ground-breaking or positive impact on the protection of human rights, and where it perhaps failed to fulfill its mission and which judge(s) exemplified the dedication to safeguarding human rights and to sound legal reasoning and knowledge in a separate opinion.
Decisions this Week
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Palacio Urrutia v. Ecuador
Decision Date: November 24, 2021
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that the State of Ecuador violated the right to freedom of expression of Emilio Palacio Urrutia, Carlos Nicolás Pérez Lapentti, Carlos Eduardo Pérez Barriga, and César Enrique Pérez Barriga, as enshrined in article 13 of the American Convention of Human Rights. The Court argued that the criminal convictions and civil sanctions against the aforementioned individuals, for the publication of the article “NO a las mentiras”, that criticized then President Rafael Correa, were disproportionate and could have a chilling effect that inhibited the dissemination of ideas, opinions, and information. The Court also found that the article “NO a las mentiras” was a form of protected speech that deserved special protection, since it was an opinion piece, about a public official and on a matter of public interest.
Indigenous People Maya Kaqchikel from Sumpango v. Guatemala
Decision Date: October 6, 2021
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that the State of Guatemala breached articles 13 and 26 of the American Convention of Human Rights, on the ground that its regulation regarding the allocation of radio frequencies was discriminatory against indigenous peoples. According to the “Ley General de Telecomunicaciones” (General Telecommunications Bill) radio frequencies will always be allocated to the highest bidder in a public auction. This made it impossible for structurally impoverished indigenous communities to operate their own media outlets, which in turns harms diversity and pluralism in media. Similarly, the Court considered that the criminal persecution undertaken by the State of Guatemala against members of two indigenous communities operating radio stations without licenses, along with other criminal proceedings used to undermine the operation of the radio stations, were disproportionate measures that breached article 13.2 of the American Convention.
African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Shumba v. Zimbabwe
Decision Date: October 20, 2021
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights held that a Zimbabwean law restricting the right to vote to citizens resident in the country did not violate the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. A group of Zimbabweans living in South Africa approached the Commission, arguing that their rights to freedom of expression and to participate in government were infringed by the law. The Commission accepted the Zimbabwean government’s argument that non-residents are not primarily affected by the outcome of the election, and held that as non-residents could return and vote in Zimbabwe, the limitation to the rights was justified.
African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Ajavon v. Benin
Decision Date: December 4, 2020
The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights held that the Beninese government had violated the rights to freedom of association, the right to free participation in the government and the right to non-discrimination under the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. A Beninese businessman based in France had filed an application challenging various Beninese laws which banned the alliance of political parties and independent candidature and introduced residency requirements, and prevented certain types of digital expression. The Court accepted that the laws violated the rights to equality, freedom of association and to participate in government and ordered that Benin repeal those laws. However, the Court held that the laws which restricted expression were permissible as the aim of preventing racial and xenophobic insults was legitimate.
Teaching Freedom of Expression Without Frontiers
This section of the newsletter features teaching materials focused on global freedom of expression which are newly uploaded on Freedom of Expression Without Frontiers.
Re|Shaping Policies for Creativity – Addressing culture as a global public good
The UNESCO Global Report “is the third edition of a series designed to monitor the implementation of the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. As the only Report of its kind, it provides a global overview of the state of the cultural and creative sectors, through insightful new data that shed light on emerging trends at a global level and puts forward policy recommendations to foster creative ecosystems that contribute to a sustainable world by 2030 and beyond.” Of particular note are Chapters 2 on media diversity and Chapter 10 on “Safeguarding the Freedom to Create,” which discusses a range of issues from the legal challenges and physical/on-line threats, to the social and economic factors that can heighten the tendency towards self-censorship, or even deter from entering cultural professions at all.
PI’s Guide to International Law and Surveillance
Privacy International’s Guide to International Law and Surveillance, is the third edition of the guide and reflects the most relevant legal developments until December 2021. New sections include “acquiring and selling surveillance equipment”, “biometric data collection”, and “protest surveillance”. It further includes new resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council; extracts from the most recent reports of different UN bodies; as well as extracts from the most recent judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. The Guide is regularly updated as new developments and information emerge in order to be an indispensable reference tool for anyone engaging in campaigning, advocacy, and scholarly research, on these issues.
● Access Info Europe submitted an amicus curiae brief to the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Citizens Network Watchdog Poland vs. Poland. Watchdog Poland has been requesting access to the calendars of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal presidents in an effort to investigate allegations “that they had met a politician in charge of the special services, resulting in changes to the judges trying surveillance and terrorism-prevention cases.” According to Access Info, meeting calendars of public officials’ would fall under the definition of an administrative document and be subject to the access to information laws of at least 34 of the 47 countries over which the European Court of Human Rights has jurisdiction.
● Center for International Media Assistance launched a new report Private Gatekeepers: Encrypted Messaging Apps and News Audiences. The report explores how the “[w]idespread use of encrypted messaging apps (EMAs) in developing countries and emerging democracies has prompted news outlets in these regions to experiment with them as mechanisms for distributing the news. From news products designed specifically for sharing via EMAs to private channels used to circumvent restrictions in repressive media environments, media outlets are testing how best to use these apps to reach audiences even in the face of technical challenges, resource demands, and sometimes, political pressure.”
This newsletter is reproduced with the permission of Global Freedom of Expression. For an archive of previous newsletters, see here.