UNESCO cooperates with human rights courts in Africa to reinforce international standards on freedom of expression and rule of law

UNESCO has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the East African Court of Justice (EACJ), formalizing their cooperation in the protection of freedom of expression, press freedom and the safety of journalists in East Africa.
Human rights courts in Africa
With the signature of this agreement, UNESCO has established institutional partnerships with all regional courts in Africa, namely the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the ECOWAS Court of Justice and now the East African Court of Justice, to reinforce regional frameworks on human rights and to ensure freedom of expression, press freedom, and an end to impunity for crimes committed against journalists in the region.
Tawfik Jelassi Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, UNESCO

UNESCO’s partnerships with regional human rights courts aim to ensure higher credibility and outreach for its specialized training programme for judicial officials, aligned with UNESCO’s Global Priority Africa, in order to promote the exchange of best practices and to reinforce international and regional standards on freedom of expression, access to information and the safety of journalists, thereby fostering the respect for the rule of law and fundamental freedoms in general.

It is my hope that the agreement with be implemented with both parties in good faith and that the role of the Court in the implementation agenda will be well underscored by its stakeholders. Considering the importance of the Agreement to the Court in particular and to the East Africans in general, I wish to thank and commend UNESCO for accepting to work with the EACJ for the benefit of the people of the East African Community.
Justice Nestor Kayobera President of the EACJ

Considering the higher degree of independence that judges in many countries enjoy, their decisions can be an important factor to guarantee the implementation of freedom of expression standards and the safety of journalists. The judiciary can in particular play an essential role in reinforcing the “three Ps” (Prevention, Protection, and Prosecution), to guarantee journalists’ safety and end impunity for crimes and attacks against them. To that effect, the signature of this Memorandum of Understanding effectively defines a strategic framework for UNESCO and the East African Court of Justice to actively cooperate in enhancing the knowledge and capacities of the judiciary on these issues, by promoting the exchange of best practices and regional jurisprudence related to freedom of expression, access to information, and the safety of journalists.

To that effect, UNESCO has launched a video highlighting landmark decisions of the African Court, the ECOWAS Court and the EACJ, (including Lohé Issa Konaté v. Burkina Faso, 2014; Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) and others v. The Gambia, 2018; and Media Council of Tanzania v. Attorney General, 2019), relating to issues of freedom of expression, press freedom, safety of journalists, decriminalizing defamation and ending impunity for crimes against journalists. In particular, the video presents the mandate and functioning of the African Court, and details how cases relating to freedom of expression in the region can be brought to redressal through the Court.

Regional Judicial Courts in Africa and Landmark Jurisprudence on Freedom of Expression

Developed through UNESCO’s partnerships with regional and sub-regional courts in Africa —and with the support from the Multi-Donor Programme on Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan— this video aims to underline the role of judicial actors and courts in protecting fundamental human rights, and to raise awareness on key decisions that uphold international and regional standards on freedom of expression.

These activities fall within the framework of UNESCO’s Judges’ Initiative which has, since 2013, raised the capacities of judicial actors in over 150 countries around the world. Over 23,000 judicial actors, including judges, prosecutors, and lawyers, have been trained on issues of freedom of expression, access to information and safety of journalists, notably through a series of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), including in Africa, on-the-ground trainings and seminars for Supreme Court judges, and the publication of a number of toolkits and guidelines.