On October 21, 2021, in commemoration of the Africa Human Rights Day, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) partnered with the African Court on Human and People’s Rights to convene a round table on emerging issues on Freedom of Expression (FOE). The round table brought together judicial institutions and prominent experts in FOE from across Africa to discuss emerging trends, developments, and jurisprudence on FOE on the African continent, such as current trends in FOE, access to information and digital rights, and how these mechanisms can respond, protect, and promote these rights. The round table discussion focused on The Keynote Address was delivered by Lawrence Murugu Mute, the Former Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information for the African Commission on Peoples’ and Human Rights, whose speech focused on the State of Freedom of Expression in Africa & Role of the African Human Rights Mechanisms in advancing these rights.
The round table was opened by Hon Judge Ben Kioki, the Dean of Judges of the African Court on behalf of Hon. Lady Justice Aboud Imani, President of the African Court on Peoples’ and Human Rights, who remarked that: “As the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic, the rule of law has never been under such threat as it presently is. It appears that the pandemic occurred in a world already grappling with the challenges brought about by an unprecedented use of new technology and social media,” and noted that, “encouraging but slow trends towards effective national framework for the protection of freedom of expression make it imperative for concerted action to be sustained at the regional level to reinforce domestic systems.”
Other preeminent panelists included: Hon Justice Geoffrey Kiryabwire, Vice President of the East African Court of Justice (EACJ); Hlengiwe Dube, Programme Manager of the Expression, Information and Digital Rights Unit, Centre for Human Rights; Tonny Anene-Maidoh, Registrar Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS Court); Catherine Anite, Member at Independent High-Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom & Freedom of Expression Hub; Don Deya, Chief Executive Officer of Pan African Lawyers Union; and Aloys Habimana from the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law.
Specific topics covered included an overview of the key legislation on online regulations; analysis of restrictive legislation against African Human Rights Legal Framework; review of the emerging jurisprudence on FOE; litigation of FOE in Africa; and the challenges and opportunities by the mechanisms and emerging trends in digital rights, amongst others.
The round table was attended by participants from across the continent including civil society organizations, members of judicial and quasi-judicial mechanisms, lawyers, and members of the media, among others. At the end of the roundtable, the participants were strengthened with capacities and knowledge of fostering FOE, media rights, digital rights, access to information, in the pre and current COVID era.