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Freedom Of Speech Is Not Just A Human Right, But A Fundamental Human Right

By Yunus S Saliu

Acting Secretary General of the NATCOM UNESCO – The Gambia, Maimuna Sidibeh, has emphasized that freedom of speech is not just a human right, but a fundamental human right.

The acting Secretary General said without this right all other rights are in jeopardy. “Freedom of speech, she said, is intensely present at the intersection between law and ethics – this is at the core of the problems it creates. Even if something is ethically correct, it isn’t necessarily legally guaranteed. Something that is within the legal framework may not be very ethical. We are not, however, talking about legal responsibility, but moral. This does not reduce the dilemma concerning freedom of speech. As we know, the right is characterized precisely by its existence in the intersection between law and ethics,” she expressed.

She went on, “we are here to have a dialogue with our judiciary system, a dialogue that will highlight how the rights to freedom of expression and access to information help to promote and protect the particular rights under focus in the agenda of the Judges’ and magistrates’ dialogue. This initiative is a work that UNESCO is doing to promote knowledge of international and regional standards for freedom of expression within Africa’s judicial processes.”

The acting Secretary General explained that UNESCO works with African governments and stakeholders to replace enduring colonial-era laws with legal instruments that are more suited to Africa’s Agenda 2063, and which are also more conducive to achieving the universal Sustainable Development Goals – especially the goal that calls for public access to information and fundamental freedoms.”

UNESCO, she said, has memoranda of cooperation with the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights, the ECOWAS Court, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Ibero-American Summit of Judges, and the Latin American Prosecutor’s Association, and operates various training programs for judges, which have now involved over 12000 people in the judiciary in Latin America, while a pilot in Africa has reached 1800 and will continue at a larger scale in the future.

Madam Sidibeh continued in her address that the organization hopes there will be many more such judicial decisions at continental, regional, sub-regional, and national levels. This is because decisions like these underline that the rule of law protects society’s right to exercise freedom of expression without fear. Such rulings help to underline the right to expression, in turn; this contributes to enabling a free flow of information as the foundation for truth and progress, and for journalism to be protected in its role of being an antidote to disinformation, hate speech, corruption, and human rights violations.

“And as John Stuart Mill put it: ‘We need freedom of expression to find the truth,’ not to uncover it. Truth is a very personal and intimate concept. It can only be achieved by the individual, all the while all these individual truths must confront each other in the public sphere.

“Freedom of speech is necessary so that every one of us should be able to develop and maintain both independence and dignity. Therefore, it is such an irreplaceable value.”

The UNESCO dialogue with the Judiciary on the freedom of expression and safety of journalists held at the Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara Conference Center, Bijilo was coordinated by the NATCOM UNESCO and funded by UNESCO Dakar.

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Yunus S Saliu

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