IHRDA Statement on World Press Freedom Day 2010

Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA)

Statement On World Press Freedom Day 2010

The Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) would like to thank the Gambia Press Union for organising this symposium to commemorate the World Press Freedom Day 2010 under the theme “Freedom of information, the right to know”.

Allow us to quote the words of the two fundamental texts from which we draw our inspiration for today. The 1997 Constitution of The Gambia provides in its chapter on Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, in section 25

“(1)Every person shall have the right to:
(a) freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media;
(b) freedom of thought, conscience and belief, which shall include academic freedom.”

The Gambian Constitution is remarkable as it explicitly provides even for freedom of thought and conscientious objection.

On the press specifically, in section 207, the Constitution further provides:
“(1) The freedom and independence of the press and other information media are hereby guaranteed.”

IHRDA congratulates the media in The Gambia for their tireless efforts at disseminating information to the public. In the words of the UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova’s Message for this year’s World Press Freedom Day, “Freedom of Information is the principle that organisations and governments have a duty to share or provide ready access to information they hold, to anyone who wants it, based on the public’s right to be informed.”

The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights provides, in its article 9:

“1. Every individual shall have the right to receive information.
2. Every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law.

The African Charter is quite apt for our theme today as its provisions focus, as does our theme for today, on the information itself and the right to receive it. Receiving information builds our knowledge and allows us to live our humanity and exercise our rights and duties more effectively. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has repeatedly asserted that being able to disseminate information is critical in the public or individual’s ability to exercise their right to receive information.

In her Message for today, Ms Bokova went on to state that “the right to know is central for upholding other basic rights.” It is precisely on this point that IHRDA would like to make its contribution today.

One fundamental right of primary concern to IHRDA’s work in The Gambia is access to justice. Access to justice is incomplete without equality before the law.

This means that the poor and vulnerable people must, with equal ease access judicial remedies for relief or resolution of any conflicts they may have. The Constitution of The Gambia considers that all persons are equal before the law. To ensure that this equality is preserved, the Constitution further mandates the provision of legal aid at the expense of the state for persons charged with offences punishable by death or life imprisonment. This was further expanded by the Children’s Act 2005 to include children.

Since May 2005, IHRDA has been working together with the Judiciary of The Gambia, the Ministry of Justice and the Gambia Bar Association to enhance access to justice in The Gambia. Together, we have held workshops in 2005, 2006 and 2007, and had much consultation in between. Finally, in 2008, the National Assembly passed a new and progressive law called the Legal Aid Act 2008 that establishes an effective legal aid system in The Gambia. This Act will open the doors of justice to those who may have otherwise been shut out. This, it is hoped, will have such a ripple effect, bringing to life the promise of fundamental rights in the Gambian Constitution to those who are economically constrained.

This is great news for the public in The Gambia. In the spirit of the theme today, it is our “duty to share or provide ready access to information [we] hold, to anyone who wants it, based on the public’s right to be informed.”

IHRDA commits itself to partnering with the very able Gambian press to disseminate this vital information. We wish you all fruitful deliberations and an inspirational World Press Freedom Day.

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