International guarantee

The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed by a number of global and regional human rights treaties, as well as under customary international law. However, this diversity of sources does not reflect a diversity of ideas about what the right means: freedom of expression is a universal right, so its meaning is largely the same in every treaty. Any differences relate mostly to how it is enforced.

The universal declaration of human rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) contains, in Article 19, the first and most widely recognised statement of the right to freedom of expression:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

The UDHR is not a binding treaty but a recommendatory resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly. Through time and universal acceptance, however, much of the UDHR has risen to the level of customary international law, including Article 19, and is therefore binding on all states.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was meant to elaborate the UDHR and contains a more detailed but very similar statement about freedom of expression (again in Article 19):

1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.