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Inalienable Human Rights—Free Speech, Opinion, and Freedom of Religion in Africa

By April 4, 2016December 16th, 2019Student Staff

By student staff member Linda Waits-Kamau

Since joining the Center for Global Justice Student Staff in January 2016, I have worked on a project for Advocates Africa, a Christian network of attorneys in Africa dedicated to promoting a biblical view of human rights. Our research will be used by the attorneys to make arguments at the African Commission of Human and Peoples’ Rights NGO forum. Specifically, I have been researching various human rights treaties regarding free speech and freedom of religious expression and opinion, with a particular focus on African states.  This has been a thrilling experience, since I hope to work on human rights issues in this region (Africa) in the not-so-distant future. While researching the human rights articles in the UN and African Union pertaining to free speech and religious rights, I have come to understand the importance of finding specific references within the drafting history of these documents, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ICCPR, as well as in the African Union documents, which reflects a regional approach to preserving and protecting human rights within African cultural context.

In my research, I gained a great appreciation for the particular terms and language used to describe or convey concepts in the universal human rights documents as they were developed during the drafting process based upon the definitions given and agreed upon by the drafters.  For the most part, the articles within these documents follow closely from the original Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948, which was so carefully crafted in terms of terminology and language due to the devastation of a second world war to restore peace, order, and rights within the international system and later within post-colonial, independent African States.  In my studies of Government, International Relations, and, most recently, Law at Regent University, I have come to understand the importance of applying universal rights to the contextual issues in a particular region, within the understanding of shared universal human rights owing to our common humanity and natural law that applies to all people everywhere.  

The drafters of all these documents paid particular and careful attention to language and concepts to ensure that they reflected balanced rights and responsibilities of individuals and governments.  Looking to the drafters’ notes in the Travaux Préparatoires comments and discussions of the committees involved in drafting particular articles within the human rights documents, our team looked particularly at freedom of speech and religious rights and the intended balance for protection of free speech from government, foreign (colonial) imposition, or other types of interference.  The meanings are important to the issues reflected in Africa in a regional context since some issues are particular to African values regarding protection of the family and other shared African State values to protect self-determination of African States.

Our team also looked at the difference between “hate speech” and “defamation” laws and their relation to freedom of speech and opinion of individuals as well as free expression of religious beliefs.  Finding the meaning of terms and concepts within the broadly stated articles, as described in the convention drafting notes, is essential to separating the intended understanding from what was not intended, especially for shedding light on ambiguous statements in the rights documents that could be interpreted in diversely different ways from the intended meanings.

Although it amazes me that all nations and governments participate in acknowledging the rights in these ‘International Bill of Rights’ documents, even if these rights are not fully realized in all the nations, this must be due to the realization that liberty, justice, and inalienable rights are written upon all human hearts, along with the yearning to be free.  This human disposition for freedom, while recognized in all, must be continually and vigilantly pursued and established through law and justice in each societal context.