FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND RESPECT TO THE SACRED IN AFRICA: STATE OF THE ART By Khabele MATLOSA Director, Political Affairs, AUC OUTLINE INTRODUCTION OAU/AU NORMATIVE FRAMEWORK SOCIO-CULTURAL DIVERSITY AND AU POLICY RESPONSES REGIONAL SNAPSHOTS CONCLUSION INTRODUCTION Freedom of Expression refers to the right to express one’s ideas and opinions freely through speech, writing; and other forms of communication; It has to ne enjoyed without deliberately causing harm to the society and individuals through false or misleading information; It is also important to indicate that freedom of expression has a strong interlinkage with access to information as the two are interwoven and mutually reinforcing. INTRODUCTION Global Policy Framework on Freedom of Expression: Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948 makes it clear that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold public opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Countries across the globe have provisions in their Constitutions on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information. OAU/AU NORMATIVE FRAMEWORK Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights provides that every individual shall have the right to receive information and every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his/HER opinions within the law; There are other provisions in support of access to information and Freedom of expression in: the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and the 2011 African Charter on the Values and Principles of Public service and Administration; Both the ACHPR and ACDEG are in force and currently the state of freedom of expression and access to information has improved tremendously on the continent compared to about thirty years ago. OAU/AU NORMATIVE FRAMEWORK Over and above the human rights instruments that the AU has in abundance, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Right has also come up with a Model Law on Access to Information; The Model law is progressive on issues of freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa; Conventionally, a model law is a tool for inspiration for states to promulgate legislation on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information; OAU/AU NORMATIVE FRAMEWORK The objectives of such an Act could include: Giving effect to the right of access to information and freedom of expression as per the 1981 ACHPR Establishing voluntary and mandatory mechanisms for accessing information and enjoying freedom of expression Ensuring that freedom of expression and access to information does not inhibit freedoms of others; Promoting transparency, responsibility, accountability and educating people about their rights and those of others OAU/AU NORMATIVE FRAMEWORK AU Member States that have adopted Access to Information legislation include: South Africa Nigeria Angola Zimbabwe Liberia Niger Liberia Uganda Ethiopia Rwanda South Sudan, OAU/AU NORMATIVE FRAMEWORK Freedom of expression imposes an obligation on the authorities to take positive measures to promote diversity, which include among other things-: availability and promotion of a range of information and ideas to the public; pluralistic access to the media and other means of communication, including by vulnerable or marginalised groups, such as women, children and refugees, as well as linguistic and cultural groups; the promotion and protection of African voices, including through media in local languages; and the promotion of the use of local languages in public affairs, including in the courts (Declaration on Principles of Freedom of Expression). CULTURAL DIVERSITY: AU RESPONSE Freedom of Expression and the problems of intolerance associated with this right tend to rotate around the management of socio-cultural diversity; Diversity denotes a state of being different or the same vis-àvis others; It is one of the various variables around which social groups differentiate themselves from others and/or provide intragroup solidarity to promote and protect their interests; Key markers of diversity include ethnicity, religion, race, gender, region, class, age, modes of production, CULTURAL DIVERSITY: AU RESPONSE Cultural diversity is here to stay-and to grow. States need to find ways of forging national unity amid this diversity” (UNDP, 2004:2) “Perhaps the most important challenge facing African countries today lies here: How does the African state transform its component identities-its ethnic diversities inherited from colonial boundaries-into nation-states” (Deng, 2008:31); “While majority rule may be the hallmark of liberal democracy, the protection of minority rights constitutes the major strength and resilience of any democratic system” (ECA, AGRIII, 2009:26); CULTURAL DIVERSITY: AU RESPONSE The three quotations above clearly suggest that diversity, in and of itself, need not lead to adversity and become destructive; It need not be a political liability to nation-building and sustainable democratic governance; Well understood and constructively managed, diversity can be a resource for national unity and advancing the nationstate building project in Africa. It can become an asset for democratisation, nation-building and peace in Africa. SNAPSHOT BY REGION: 5 REGIONS. CULTURAL DIVERSITY: AU RESPONSE Diversity is a feature of all the five regions of the AU; In West Africa, it manifests in various ways, but the most worrying dimension is religious intolerance as manifested by Boko Haram in Nigeria; In Southern Africa, it take on a slightly different dynamic; earlier on its violent form was racial as under Apartheid in South Africa and Namibia; In North Africa, the diversity-based political violence manifests in the current crisis in Egypt, especially religious intolerance; In East Africa, the diversity manifests largely through ethnic faultlines as we witnessed with the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007/08; In Central Africa, no other violent conflict illustrates religious intolerance as the on-going war in the Central African Republic. CULTURAL DIVERSITY: AU RESPONSE A comprehensive policy response to challenges posed by diversity in Africa is required in five main policy domains as follows: Policies for ensuring political participation of diverse socio-cultural groups (e.g. power-sharing arrangements); Policies on religion and religious practice (e.g. religious tolerance); Policies on customary law and legal pluralism (e.g. use of traditional justice systems); Policies on the use of multiple languages (e.g. multiple, dual or mono-language policies); and Policies for redressing socio-economic exclusion ( e.g. addressing inequality, poverty and unemployment. CONCLUSION In conclusion, I will make a modest contribution as to how Africa can entrench a culture of freedom of expression and access to information while at the same time promoting democracy, peace and stability. Firstly, all AU Member States must recognise both through their constitutions and political culture that freedom of expression and access to information comes with the responsibility of each citizen to respect and tolerate others. As citizens express their own freedoms, they should respect and tolerate others to enjoy their own freedoms too. Secondly, freedom of belief, opinions and one’s cultural heritage should not threaten others from enjoying their own cultural beliefs. This calls for constructive management of diversity especially as it relates to religion. The mayhem caused by senseless killing of innocent people by Boko Haram in Nigeria is a major cause of concern for religious freedom and tolerance on our continent today. Thirdly, freedom of expression should not be interpreted as freedom to destroy societies, but rather freedom to build societies in a harmonious manner. It is easy to destroy a society and in a short space of time. It is difficult to build socio-cultural resilience of societies and it takes longer. It is therefore important to invest more in building rather than destroying. CONCLUSION Fourthly, the sterling efforts of the ACHPR and the African Court on Human and People’s Rights in respect of their mandate to promote and protect human rights must be supported fully by all AU Member States and the international community so that the architecture for the freedom of expression is anchored on a more solid institutional foundation. Finally, as you are probably aware by now, the African Union is developing the African Common Position on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Africa 2063 Agenda; These medium-term and long-term development frameworks cannot succeed being anchored on solid foundations of democracy, peace and stability; These foundations for both the African Common Position on Post2015 Development Agenda and the Africa 2063 Agenda will require the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms including the freedom of expression, access to information while at the same time combatting incitement, hate speech and reckless speech based on religious intolerance.