Freedom of expression and the right to have a right [Archives:2007/1078/Viewpoint]

August 20 2007

There is no true democracy without freedom of press. Freedom of press, which is a right to journalists, is an integral part of freedom of expression, which is guaranteed to all people. According to article 19 of the International Declaration of Human Rights: 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\her choice. It could be through burning flags, wearing certain clothes, sit-ins or peaceful demonstrations tc.

This right also includes not only disseminating information but also collecting it. This means any person living in a country, which ratified the declaration on human rights, must ensure that all people can access information from various ministries and state organsiations. Not only that, legislations must be created in a way to make the dissemination of information to the public a regular task of the state office and the employee who withholds information must be punished.

The idea that freedom of expression is for everyone and about anything is thrilling. Consider the prospective of a free society where people get access to information of their interest without hurdles. Consider a society where people can freely express themselves as long as they do not harm public order or individuals' reputation.

The knowledge of having this right encourages people to use it. People will start to think outside the box, they will communicate and discuss. Debates about anything can take place and different opinions will be heard. Information will flow smoothly from one person to the other and people will be wiser and more aware.

Such a society will definitely be more secure because there will be less unknown variables in people's lives. Article 19 is a very ambitious law, which would lead to an almost ideal society regarding information. Countries that have ratified the declarations containing this law are either too smart or too stupid. They either acknowledge the significance of such legislation, wanting to endorse it in the society, or they don't understand the significance and opt to ignore it though they are held accountable.

Many of the Yemeni laws are not in line with the Yemeni constitution, which endorses international laws. What happens in a country like Yemen regarding freedom of expression is a far cry from what the state has committed to when ratifying the declarations. However, until the government ratifies the optional protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Yemeni citizens cannot sue the state at the international court of human rights for violating the right of freedom of expression. According to the first article of the optional protocol, a State Party recognizing the competence of the Human Rights Committee is to receive and consider communications from individuals subject to its jurisdiction who claim to be victims of a violation, committed by that State Party, of any of the rights set forth in the Covenant. This is what the Yemeni media and the civil society organizations should campaign for. The government must ratify the optional protocol so that it proves itself a country encouraging democracy for real.