Freedom of Speech in International Law

Freedom of speech is best understood as freedom of expression since ideas and opinions can be expressed by conduct as well as by words. In fact, modern technology permits unique ways of expression via the worldwide web with little means of regulating and limiting free speech and expression. Freedom of speech and expression are considered to be inalienable civil rights of all democratic systems. Be that as it may, even in the context of democratic freedoms, free speech and expression are subject to limitations calculated to minimize harm.

As such, democratic nations recognizing and indorsing the right to free speech have set common law and statutory restraints on all civil liberties including free speech and expression. The right to free speech is recognized and documented in international law. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948-1998 provides as follows: “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. ”

This right like all other rights and liberties provided for under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is subject to restraint. Broadly speaking civil liberties require responsibility and duty toward maintaining the peace of one’s own community. Article 28 of the Declaration makes the following provision: “In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society. ”

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is an international treaty with membership of approximately 148 nations. The Covenant binds Member States to its treaties and covenants and indorses the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By virtue of Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Member States are required to adapt local laws that reflect the freedom of speech principles set out in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The European Convention on Human Rights contains similar freedom of expression guarantees as those contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.