Human Rights House Foundation

United Kingdom

Image: Map of Ethiopia 

East and Horn of Africa: freedom of expression trends in 2011

According to human rights and free speech organisation Article 19, the year 2011 has seen both positive and negative developments regarding freedom of expression and freedom of information in the region of East and Horn of Africa. Unfortunately, restrictive legislation in all East and Horn African countries continued to operate last year, with no signs of the acts that violated international and regional standards on freedom of expression being repealed.

Monday, 09 April 2012, by HRH London, based on Article 19 statement.

London-based human rights and free speech organisation Article 19 has published a statement, in which it outlines the main legal developments regarding freedom of expression and freedom of information in East and Horn of Africa in 2011, in particular Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Tanzania and Rwanda.

Article 19’s statement covers new legal and policy developments and key judicial decisions that have had a serious impact on the protection of freedom of speech.

Positive developments
In Kenya and Rwanda, substantive drafts of freedom of information legislation have been developed, involving civil society in ongoing consultation processes. On the regional level, Article 19 commends the adoption in 2011 of the African Platform on Access to Information. The Platform has been developed by groups across Africa, including Article 19.

The Principles contained in this document stipulate that “access to information is a fundamental human right” and “the right of access to information shall be established by law in each African country”.

The Principles underline the importance of battling corruption, protecting whistleblowers, promoting unhindered access to Information Communication Technologies, promoting access to electoral information.

The document has been endorsed by both the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Article 19 also welcomes the draft of a model law on Access to Information by the special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression of the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights.

In 2011 human rights defenders and free speech activists in the region have continued to campaign for change through involving stakeholders in consultation on draft laws, lobbying for repeal of existing laws, engaging with regional and international partners and publicising violations of expression and information rights in their countries.

Negative trends
Restrictive legislation in all East and Horn African countries continued to operate in 2011, reports of attacks on journalists continued, there were no reports of perpetrators being brought to justice as a result of deaths, assaults and other forms of harassment of journalists and human rights defenders.

Article 19 also noticed that the proliferation of technology in the region has had a mixed impact on freedom of expression and information.

In Uganda, social media has been shut down, for example to hinder the dubbed ‘walk to work’ protests against the high cost of living. In Ethiopia and Eritrea, the continued high level of control and monitoring of the Internet and other media by both governments continued, as did political censorship and heavy government control of the infrastructure.

In Kenya and Rwanda, the race to meet the global digital switchover deadline may be at the expense of access to information for those who cannot afford the “switchover” technology needed to continue to access television services. There are no comprehensive regulatory or legislative frameworks governing the process or the new digital environment.

The focus of these governments seems to be more on the required infrastructure and technology needed to meet the switchover deadlines rather than a balanced approach, which considers both the infrastructure and the required legal frameworks.

Regulation of the media and technologies
In 2011 the majority of countries in the region did not pass, propose or amend any laws pertaining to media regulation. Only Rwanda adopted such a law. Draft laws remain in place, some still under debate, others continue to be overtaken by other national agendas. New broadcasting regulations were proposed in Ethiopia and Rwanda.

In East and Horn of Africa, the focus has so far been on the technology aspect and the majority of governments have not demonstrated an approach which protects or considers rights and associated issues in the regulation of information and communication technologies. Rights of expression and access to information have not been at the forefront of any legislative agenda.

Freedom of information and data protection
In 2011 major legislative activity involving freedom of information laws took place in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. In Kenya and Rwanda, these included the drafting of bills, while Uganda adopted regulations to implement Uganda’s Access to Information Act of 2005.

Article 19 says it stands ready to assist governments and civil society organisations in the region in advancing legal reforms.

According to the organisation, in 2012 the cornerstone rights must be placed at the top of the reform agenda and be fully integrated in any new or revised legal frameworks and instruments. In particular, Article 19 calls on the governments of the East and Horn of Africa countries to:

– Repeal or amend legislation and provisions that are inconsistent with international principles of the freedoms of expression and information which they are bound to uphold, protect and advance;
– Enact freedom of information laws and other laws that articulate, oversee and protect right to freedom of expression and information;
– Prosecute perpetrators of violence against journalists and adopt strict ‘no tolerance’ approaches in this area;
– Adopt proactive measures to educate the public about freedom of expression and information;
– Eliminate state control over the media and foster conducive environments for media self- regulation;
– Decriminalise defamation within national law;
– Continue co-operation and engagement with advocates for freedom of expression and information, civil society and regional and international partners.

HRH London, based on Article 19 statement.

Page navigation