Freedom of expression and the law

Freedom of expression and the law

The right to express oneself is a fundamental human right outlined in International Law.  However, most societies would agree there are types of expression that are not acceptable and which conflict with other human rights, such as promoting hate speech.

For this reason, Governments use laws to limit freedom of expression if it conflicts with other human rights, such as the protection of the rights or reputations of others, national security, public order, public health and morals. Unfortunately, governments, private institutions and individuals around the world can abuse such limitations, using legislation and the judicial system unjustly to control expression and quash opposing views.

What is freedom of expression?

Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Freedom of expression (FoX) is important because it allows:

Individuals to understand our world and plan our lives by sharing ideas and information freely with one another and allowing us to work and make decisions about our lives.

Individuals to feel secure and respected by our governments, as we are free to speak our minds, to question governance and to demand accountability and transparency.

Informed voting; because citizens can evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of political parties through media scrutiny and free debate about and between parties.

Citizens and journalists to report concerns to authorities without fear; including enabling journalists and activists to expose human rights abuses or issues and call for government action.

Citizen participation in law and policy making, through public debate and open consultation that allows different views to be heard and addressed and ultimately makes it more likely the eventual law will be accepted and respected.

2.2.2 Legal framework

Article 19 of both the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) guarantee the right to freedom of expression.

See our Resource Centre for our Freedom of Expression law directory.