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  • The Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information*


These Principles were adopted on 1 October 1995 by a group of experts in international law, national security, and human rights convened by ARTICLE 19, the International Centre Against Censorship, in collaboration with the Centre for Applied Legal Studies of the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg.

The Principles are based on international and regional law and standards relating to the protection of human rights, evolving state practice (as reflected, inter alia, in judgments of national courts), and the general principles of law recognized by the community of nations.

These Principles acknowledge the enduring applicability of the Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Paris Minimum Standards of Human Rights Norms In a State of Emergency. 1 [End Page 1]


The participants involved in drafting the present Principles:

Considering that, in accordance with the principles proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world;

Convinced that it is essential, if people are not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law;

Reaffirming their belief that freedom of expression and freedom of information are vital to a democratic society and are essential for its progress and welfare and for the enjoyment of other human rights and fundamental freedoms;

Taking into account relevant provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights;

Keenly aware that some of the most serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms are justified by governments as necessary to protect national security;

Bearing in mind that it is imperative, if people are to be able to monitor the conduct of their government and to participate fully in a democratic society, that they have access to government-held information;

Desiring to promote a clear recognition of the limited scope of restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of information that may be imposed in the interest of national security, so as to discourage governments from using the pretext of national security to place unjustified restrictions on the exercise of these freedoms;

Recognizing the necessity for legal protection of these freedoms by the enactment of laws drawn narrowly and with precision, and which ensure the essential requirements of the rule of law; and

Reiterating the need for judicial protection of these freedoms by independent courts;

Agree upon the following Principles, and recommend that appropriate bodies at the national, regional and international levels undertake steps to promote their widespread dissemination, acceptance and implementation: [End Page 2]

I. General Principles

Principle 1: Freedom of Opinion, Expression and Information

  1. a. Everyone has the right to hold opinions without interference.

  2. b. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes the 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 or her choice.

  3. c. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph (b) may be subject to restrictions on specific grounds, as established in international law, including for the protection of national security.

  4. d. No restriction on freedom of expression or information on the ground of national security may be imposed unless the government can demonstrate that the restriction is prescribed by law and is necessary in a democratic society to protect a legitimate national security interest. 2 The burden of demonstrating the validity of the restriction rests with the government.

Principle 1.1: Prescribed by Law

  1. a. Any restriction on expression or information must be prescribed by law. The law must be accessible...

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