Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
Within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed the:
- Right to privacy: Article 12. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
- Right to freedom of opinion and expression: Article 19 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.
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965)
The resolution 2106 (XX) of 21 December 1965 adopted by General Assembly was signed by the United States the 28 September 1966 and ratified on 21 October 1994 with reservations.
- Article 5: In compliance with the fundamental obligations laid down in article 2 of this Convention, States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of the following rights: […](d) Other civil rights, in particular:
[…](viii) The right to freedom of opinion and expression;
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)
The resolution 2200A (XXI) of 16 December 1966 adopted by the General Assembly has been signed by the United States the 5th of October 1977, while the ratification has arrived only the 8th of June 1992 (with reservations and declarations).
- Article 19 1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.
- Article 20 1. Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.
2. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.
Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977.
Signed by the U.S. the 12 December 1977, the convention states:
Section III -- Treatment of persons in the power of a party to the conflict
Chapter III -- Journalists
- Article 79 -- Measures of protection for journalists 1. Journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians within the meaning of Article 50, paragraph 1.
2. They shall be protected as such under the Conventions and this Protocol, provided that they take no action adversely affecting their status as civilians, and without prejudice to the right of war correspondents accredited to the armed forces to the status provided for in Article 4 A (4) of the Third Convention.
3. They may obtain an identity card similar to the model in Annex II of this Protocol. This card, which shall be issued by the government of the State of which the journalist is a national or in whose territory he resides or in which the news medium employing him is located, shall attest to his status as a journalist.
American Declaration of the Human Rights and the duties of the Man(1948).
Adopted in 1948 by the Ninth International Conference of American States, in Bogotá, the American Declaration of the Human Rights and the duties of the Man states:
Article IV. Right to freedom of investigation, opinion, expression and dissemination.
“Every person has the right to freedom of investigation, of opinion, and of the expression and dissemination of ideas, by any medium whatsoever.”
American Convention on Human Rights “Pact of San Jose, Costa Rica”
Adopted at the Inter-American Specialized Conference on Human Rights,
San José, Costa Rica, 22 November 1969, the American Convention on Human Rights was signed by United State the 6th January 1977.
PART I - STATE OBLIGATIONS AND RIGHTS PROTECTED
CHAPTER II - CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression. This right includes freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of one's choice.
2. The exercise of the right provided for in the foregoing paragraph shall not be subject to prior censorship but shall be subject to subsequent imposition of liability, which shall be expressly established by law to the extent necessary to ensure:
a. respect for the rights or reputations of others; or
b. the protection of national security, public order, or public health or morals.
3. The right of expression may not be restricted by indirect methods or means, such as the abuse of government or private controls over newsprint, radio broadcasting frequencies, or equipment used in the dissemination of information, or by any other means tending to impede the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions.
4. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 2 above, public entertainments may be subject by law to prior censorship for the sole purpose of regulating access to them for the moral protection of childhood and adolescence.
5. Any propaganda for war and any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitute incitements to lawless violence or to any other similar action against any person or group of persons on any grounds including those of race, color, religion, language, or national origin shall be considered as offenses punishable by law.
Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression (Washington, DC, October 2000)
The Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression states thirteen articles to protect Freedom of Expression. As read in the website of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: "After an extensive debate with various civil society organizations, the Commission adopted this declaration, based on a proposal prepared for by the then newly established Special Rapporteurship on Freedom of Expression. This Declaration includes principles related to the protection of the right to freedom of expression, in light of the interpretation of Article 13 of the American Convention and international standards. It includes the following principles: the right to seek, receive, and disseminate information and opinions freely; the right of every person to have access to information about himself or herself, or his or her assets, expeditiously and not onerously, whether in public or private records; the stipulation that prior censorship, interference, or direct or indirect pressure that restricts the right to freedom of expression should be prohibited by law; principles related to the plurality and diversity of media; among others."
For more information on the background and Interpretation of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, click here
Inter-American Democratic Charter
Adopted by the General Assembly at its special session held in Lima (Peru), the 11 September 2001 the Inter-American Democratic Charter states:
I - Democracy and the Inter-American System
"Transparency in government activities, probity, responsible public administration on the part of governments, respect for social rights, and freedom of expression and of the press are essential components of the exercise of democracy.[…]"
Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas
The Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas has been approved by the Inter-American Commission during its 131st regular period of sessions, held from March 3-14, 2008.
Principle XVI - Freedom of expression, association and reunion
"Persons deprived of liberty shall have the right to freedom of expression in their own language, association, and peaceful assembly, subject to the limitations that are strictly necessary in a democratic society to protect the rights of others or public health or morals, and maintain public order, internal security, and discipline in places of deprivation of liberty, as well as subject to other limitations permitted by law and international human rights law."
For more information about the jurisprudence on Freedom of Expression of the inter-American human rights system click here
Terrorism and Freedom of Expression
The following report on Terrorism and Freedom of Expression is part of the Report on Terrorism and Human Rights published by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on October 22, 2002.
The Bill of Rights (1789)
The freedom of expression is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution through the first amendment of the Bill of Rights which states:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
The US legislation is a mix of uncodified and codified law. Below, some example of law related to Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Information in the United States.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
As reported on the U.S. Department of Justice’s website “the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was passed by Congress in 1966 to provide the public with a right of access to federal government records. The FOIA gives the public the right to request access to records of the Executive Branch of government and agencies are required to search for those requested records and then to provide copies to the requester unless the records contain information that is protected from mandatory disclosure. Congress provided protection from mandatory disclosure for information contained within records that would, for example, invade a person’s personal privacy, reveal confidential commercial information, impede law enforcement, or reveal privileged communications. The FOIA also requires agencies to automatically make available to the public certain types of records.
Because the FOIA applies only to records of the Executive Branch of the federal government, it does not provide access to records held by Congress, the federal courts, advisory offices of the President, state or local government agencies, or by private businesses or individuals. All states have their own statutes governing public access to state and local government records. State agencies should be consulted for further information about obtaining access to state records.
Each federal agency is responsible for meeting its FOIA responsibilities for its own records.”
For more information concerning Freedom of Information you can consult the UNESCO publication by Toby Mendel Freedom of information: a comparative legal survey(Paris 2008 p. 127-134).
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent United States government agency. The FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. The FCC's jurisdiction covers the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. possessions.
On the federal level, there is no defamation law in the United State. Defamation is ruled on the state level by the local common law and sometimes by the local criminal defamation laws.
Other laws related to Freedom of Expression
- Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002
- Freedom of Information, Privacy Act, and Web Inventories
- Privacy Act (1974)
- Privacy and Security Documents – CIO Council
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