The right to freedom of expression is one of many rights included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and is therefore described very succinctly. To understand its scope, we therefore have to look to:

  • the decisions of international and domestic courts
  • recommendations and statements by international bodies
  • the opinions of experts.

Some of these decisions, recommendations and opinions are fully or wholly binding in international law. The most important sources are:

  • The United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRCm), which oversees compliance with the ICCPR. It has elaborated on the meaning of the right to freedom of expression
  • The Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, whose annual reports and missions identify new trends and clarify the scope and meaning of the right
  • The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), whose mandate includes the promotion of ‘mutual knowledge and understanding of peoples’. It has adopted treaties and declarations covering free expression
  • The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which oversees several international agreements covering free expression. It has its own Representative on Freedom of the Media
  • Regional bodies, such as the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Council of Europe, African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), and Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACmHR), which have made decisions covering free expression. The ACHPR has also created a Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in Africa
  • The special mandates, including those of the UN, OSCE and OAS. Supported by ARTICLE 19, they have issued annual joint declarations since 1999 on current trends and issues in free expression

Various International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) have also produced authoritative standards on freedom of expression issues. For example, we have produced: