World Press Freedom Day, 03 May 2024


The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission), through the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa (the Special Rapporteur), joins the international community in commemorating World Press Freedom Day.

World Press Freedom Day, commemorated annually on 03 May, provides an opportunity to renew commitment to the fundamental principle of press freedom. Press freedom is of crucial importance given the key role played by the media “in ensuring full respect for the right to freedom of expression, promoting the free flow of information and ideas, assisting individuals in making informed decisions and facilitating and strengthening democracy,” as noted in the Preamble to the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa (the Declaration).

This year’s World Press Freedom Day is centred on the following theme: “A Press for the Planet: Journalism in the face of the Environmental Crisis,” highlighting the importance of journalism and freedom of expression in the context of the current global environmental crisis.

Article 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights provides that “all peoples shall have the right to a general satisfactory environment favourable to their development.” The Commission expanded on this right in its seminal decision, Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC) and Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) v. Nigeria, in which it held that: “the importance of a clean and safe environment is closely linked to economic and social rights in so far as the environment affects the quality of life and safety of the individual. The right to a general satisfactory environment therefore imposes clear obligations upon a Government, requiring the State to take reasonable and other measures to prevent pollution and ecological degradation, to promote conservation, and to secure an ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources." [Communication 155/96: Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC) and Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) v. Nigeria (2001) ACHPR]

Further, in its Resolution on Climate Change and Human Rights in Africa, the Commission encouraged States Parties to strengthen regional and international cooperation in order to achieve a strong, committed and comprehensive climate action that will ensure that human rights in Africa are safeguarded to the greatest extent possible, both today and for future generations. The Resolution further requested States to adopt and implement the special measures of protection for vulnerable groups such as children, women, older persons and persons with disabilities, indigenous communities, among others. [Resolution ACHPR/Res. 342(LVIII) 2016 on Climate Change and Human Rights in Africa, adopted by the Commission during the 58th Ordinary Session in April 2016]

However, it is particularly concerning that, “more than any other continent, Africa is affected by the consequences of climate change, although it only contributes less than 4% of global carbon dioxide (CO-2) emissions. The increase in extreme weather conditions, including storms, cyclones, typhoons, flash floods and drought-related hazards, have resulted in numerous setbacks in the development agenda of the AU Member States.” [Yearbook on the African Union Volume 3 (2022), pg.1] Mass migration due to climate related hazards and associated hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition are increasingly becoming a common phenomenon.” ['s%20low%20contribution%20to,adverse%20impacts%20of%20climate%20change.]  Climate change is proving to become a threat to humanity as a whole, but more especially the vulnerable nations.

In light of this, climate change is an increasingly important topic for journalists to report on, in order to raise awareness on the attendant challenges, disseminate pertinent information relevant to peoples’ lives, in addition to encouraging open discussion on critical issues. People generally, and more specifically journalists, should be able to speak freely about climate change and its impacts and to demand urgent action from Governments and businesses in relation to climate change. Therefore, freedom of expression, and more particularly access to information in States, are essential for all actors, be it State or non-State actors, properly understand the effects of climate change to be able to contribute effectively to develop strategies to manage the consequences of climate change and to protect the human rights of the most vulnerable. The Special Rapporteur recommends maximum disclosure of information in relation to climate change, held by public authorities. There should therefore be a free flow of information. In this regard, it is important to reiterate the importance of the rights of freedom of expression and access to information, in addition to buttressing the importance of ensuring an enabling environment for journalists to work in, as provided in Principle 20 of the Declaration. This includes ensuring protection of journalists and media practitioners from harassment and violence, both offline and online, arbitrary arrest and detention, ensuring protection of whistle-blowers, in addition to the right to privacy including the confidentiality of communications and the protection of personal information.

On World Press Freedom Day, the Special Rapporteur takes the opportunity to reiterate the inalienable rights of access to information and freedom of expression, in addition to reminding States Parties of their responsibility to ensure protection of the rights enshrined in Article 9 of the African Charter. The Special Rapporteur also takes the opportunity to honour journalists and other media practitioners for their tireless commitment, particularly those who report on issues related to the environment and climate change in Africa.

Hon. Commissioner Ourveena Geereesha Topsy-Sonoo
Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa