We, the participants of the NGO Forum preceding the 41st Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the 15th African Human Rights Book Fair, held at the Coconut Grove Hotel, Accra, from 12 – 14 May 2007,
Noting that Article 19 of the ICCPR and Article 9 of the African Charter for Human and Peoples’ Rights guarantees the right to receive and impart information within the law;
Reaffirming the fundamental importance of freedom of expression as the cornerstone of democracy and as a means of ensuring respect for all human rights and freedoms;
Desirous of promoting the free flow of information and ideas and greater respect for the right to freedom of expression in Africa;
Consistent with the provision in the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights agreed to in 2002;
WE, the members of the Special Interest Group on the Right to Freedom of Expression in Africa do hereby declare as follows:
1) That the situation of journalists and freedom of expression activists in Africa especially in Zimbabwe, Eritrea, the Gambia, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Somalia remain dire and call upon these and various other African states to respect provisions in the African Charter, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa and their various constitutions on the right to freedom of expressions,
2) We express our deepest concern and condemn in no uncertain terms the killings of journalists in a number of African countries including Zimbabwe (where Edward Chikomba a freelance cameraperson was abducted and murdered), the Gambia, Sierra Leone (where Harry Yonseneh, editor of the “For Di People” newspaper was beaten to death in July 2004 by several people acting under instructions of madam Fatmatie Hassen, a member of Parliament), Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan and demand that the responsible authorities in these countries should bring the perpetrators of these heinous acts to book,
3) We are worried about the persistent arrest and torture of journalists during the course of their duties and call upon African governments to allow journalists to do their work unhindered,
4) We are further worried and shocked by the fact that the government of Eritrea has imprisoned 18 journalists since 2001, we therefore call upon this NGO forum to request the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights to intercede on behalf of these journalists, they should either be charged or released,
5) That the continuous harassment of journalists particularly in the Gambia and Zimbabwe has to be stopped,
6) That the trend of use or misuse of legislation to hinder enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression is also worrying and has to be stopped,
7) We are further worried about the banning of newspapers in a number of African countries including Zimbabwe and the Gambia,
8) We note with concern the fact that discretionary accreditation of journalists is becoming a problem across Africa. The African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights has already ruled that discretionary accreditation of journalists is contrary to the spirit of the African Charter.
9) Whilst we have noted an increase of diversity of media, newspapers and radio stations in a number of African States, we are worried that in Niger and a few other African States, community radio stations are prevented from broadcasting debates or having discussions on political issues.
10) We are concerned that during elections, public broadcasters are often abused by ruling parties for propaganda purposes whilst private media is often denied access to government/ruling party activities.
To the NGO Forum:
I. that this forum raises these issues on behalf of the NGOs at the 41st session of the ACHPR.
II. (ii) that during the intercession, freedom of expression organizations should come together and strategise on ways of approaching especially the African Union at the next heads of states summit in Accra,
III. (iii) joint NGO presentation to the African Union Heads of States summit.
IV. (iv) urge members of this NGO forum to join the Media Foundation for West Africa and the Network for Freedom of Expression Organisations in a number of activities lined up during the African Union Heads of State Summit.
V. (v) holding simultaneous activities and press conferences on topical issues at least once a month.
VI. (vi) that NGOs make use of the regional courts being set up to bring cases of violation of Freedom of expression
VII. (vii) we appeal to the African and regional bar associations to make themselves available in the fight and legal defence for human rights in Africa.
VIII. (viii) To support the Nigerian Freedom of Information Bill.
To the AU Member States:
I. We call upon all States to respect the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights agreed to in 2002.
II. Call upon the states not to pass legislation which hinders the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression,
III. Call upon the government of Zimbabwe to;
IV. investigate thoroughly all outstanding issues including the bombings of the Daily News printing press and Offices of Voice of the People Trust as well as the abduction and murder of Edward Chikomba,
V. to desist from the arrest, harassment and torture of journalists,
VI. to repeal laws which hinder the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression,
VII. to open up the airwaves and allow community and commercial broadcasters.
VIII. Call upon the government of Eritrea to immediately release the 18 journalists who have been languishing in prison for a very long time,
IX. Call upon the government of the Gambia to;
X. Charge or release Chief Money, a journalist who has been missing since last year,
XI. To open closed media, i.e., a newspaper and two radio stations.
XII. To repeal all laws imminical to press freedom.
XIII. Call upon the government of Sierra Leone to offer full protection to journalists and freedom of expession activists.
To the African Commission:
I. To publicise the mandate of the special rapportuer on freedom of expression in Africa.
II. To publicise the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights agreed to in 2002.
III. To make use of the mandate of the special rapporteur of freedom of expression in African,
IV. We recommend collaboration between the special rapportuer on freedom of expression and the network for freedom of expression institutes in Africa.
Done in Accra, May 14th, 2007