Text of the Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information
(U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/1996/39 (1996))
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.
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:
(a) Everyone has the right to hold opinions without interference.
(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.
(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.
(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. The burden of demonstrating the validity of the restriction rests with the government.
Principle 1.1: Prescribed by Law
(a) Any restriction on expression or information must be prescribed by law. The law must be accessible, unambiguous, drawn narrowly and with precision so as to enable individuals to foresee whether a particular action is unlawful.
(b) The law should provide for adequate safeguards against abuse, including prompt, full and effective judicial scrutiny of the validity of the restriction by an independent court or tribunal.
Any restriction on expression or information that a government seeks to justify on grounds of national security must have the genuine purpose and demonstrable effect of protecting a legitimate national security interest.
Principle 1.3: Necessary in a Democratic Society
To establish that a restriction on freedom of expression or information is necessary to protect a legitimate national security interest, a government must demonstrate that:
(a) the expression or information at issue poses a serious threat to a legitimate national security interest;
(b) the restriction imposed is the least restrictive means possible for protecting that interest; and
(c) the restriction is compatible with democratic principles.
Principle 2: Legitimate National Security Interest
(a) A restriction sought to be justified on the ground of national security is not legitimate unless its genuine purpose and demonstrable effect is to protect a country's existence or its territorial integrity against the use or threat of force, or its capacity to respond to the use or threat of force, whether from an external source, such as a military threat, or an internal source, such as incitement to violent overthrow of the government.
(b) In particular, a restriction sought to be justified on the ground of national security is not legitimate if its genuine purpose or demonstrable effect is to protect interests unrelated to national security, including, for example, to protect a government from embarrassment or exposure of wrongdoing, or to conceal information about the functioning of its public institutions, or to entrench a particular ideology, or to suppress industrial unrest.
Principle 3: States of Emergency
In time of public emergency which threatens the life of the country and the existence of which is officially and lawfully proclaimed in accordance with both national and international law, a state may impose restrictions on freedom of expression and information but only to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation and only when and for so long as they are not inconsistent with the government's other obligations under international law.
Principle 4: Prohibition of Discrimination
In no case may a restriction on freedom of expression or information, including on the ground of national security, involve discrimination based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, nationality, property, birth or other status.
Principle 5: Protection of Opinion
No one may be subjected to any sort of restraint, disadvantage or sanction because of his or her opinions or beliefs.
Subject to Principles 15 and 16, expression may be punished as a threat to national security only if a government can demonstrate that:
(a) the expression is intended to incite imminent violence;
(b) it is likely to incite such violence; and
(c) there is a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the likelihood or occurrence of such violence.
Principle 7: Protected Expression
(a) Subject to Principles 15 and 16, the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression shall not be considered a threat to national security or subjected to any restrictions or penalties. Expression which shall not constitute a threat to national security includes, but is not limited to, expression that:
(i) advocates non-violent change of government policy or the government itself;
(ii) constitutes criticism of, or insult to, the nation, the state or its symbols, the government, its agencies, or public officials 3, or a foreign nation, state or its symbols, government, agencies or public officials;
(iii) constitutes objection, or advocacy of objection, on grounds of religion, conscience or belief, to military conscription or service, a particular conflict, or the threat or use of force to settle international disputes;
(iv) is directed at communicating information about alleged violations of international human rights standards or international humanitarian law.
(b) No one may be punished for criticizing or insulting the nation, the state or its symbols, the government, its agencies, or public officials, or a foreign nation, state or its symbols, government, agency
Expression, whether written or oral, can never be prohibited on the ground that it is in a particular language, especially the language of a national minority.
Governments are obliged to take reasonable measures to prevent private groups or individuals from interfering unlawfully with the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, even where the expression is critical of the government or its policies. In particular, governments are obliged to condemn unlawful actions aimed at silencing freedom of expression, and to investigate and bring to justice those responsible.
Everyone has the right to obtain information from public authorities, including information relating to national security. No restriction on this right may be imposed on the ground of national security 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.
A state may not categorically deny access to all information related to national security, but must designate in law only those specific and narrow categories of information that it is necessary to withhold in order to protect a legitimate national security interest.
Principle 13: Public Interest in Disclosure
In all laws and decisions concerning the right to obtain information, the public interest in knowing the information shall be a primary consideration.
The state is obliged to adopt appropriate measures to give effect to the right to obtain information. These measures shall require the authorities, if they deny a request for information, to specify their reasons for doing so in writing and as soon as reasonably possible; and shall provide for a right of review of the merits and the validity of the denial by an independent authority, including some form of judicial review of the legality of the denial. The reviewing authority must have the right to examine the information withheld.
No person may be punished on national security grounds for disclosure of information if (1) the disclosure does not actually harm and is not likely to harm a legitimate national security interest, or (2) the public interest in knowing the information outweighs the harm from disclosure.
No person may be subjected to any detriment on national security grounds for disclosing information that he or she learned by virtue of government service if the public interest in knowing the information outweighs the harm from disclosure.
Principle 17: Information in the Public Domain
Once information has been made generally available, by whatever means, whether or not lawful, any justification for trying to stop further publication will be overridden by the public's right to know.
Principle 18: Protection of Journalists' Sources
Protection of national security may not be used as a reason to compel a journalist to reveal a confidential source.
Principle 19: Access to Restricted Areas
Any restriction on the free flow of information may not be of such a nature as to thwart the purposes of human rights and humanitarian law. In particular, governments may not prevent journalists or representatives of intergovernmental or non-governmental organizations with a mandate to monitor adherence to human rights or humanitarian standards from entering areas where there are reasonable grounds to believe that violations of human rights or humanitarian law are being, or have been, committed. Governments may not exclude journalists or representatives of such organizations from areas that are experiencing violence or armed conflict except where their presence pose a clear risk to the safety of others.
Principle 20: General Rule of Law Protections
Any person accused of a security-related crime involving expression or information is entitled to all of the rule of law protections that are part of international law. These include, but are not limited to, the following rights:
(a) the right to be presumed innocent;
(b) the right not to be arbitrarily detained;
(c) the right to be informed promptly in a language the person can understand of the charges and the supporting evidence against him or her;
(d) the right to prompt access to counsel of choice;
(e) the right to a trial within a reasonable time;
(f) the right to have adequate time to prepare his or her defence;
(g) the right to a fair and public trial by an independent and impartial court or tribunal;
(h) the right to examine prosecution witnesses;
(i) the right not to have evidence introduced at trial unless it has been disclosed to the accused and he or she has had an opportunity to rebut it; and
(j) the right to appeal to an independent court or tribunal with power to review the decision on law and facts and set it aside.
Principle 21: Remedies
All remedies, including special ones, such as habeas corpus or amparo, shall be available to persons charged with security-related crimes, including during public emergencies which threaten the life of the country, as defined in Principle 3.
Principle 22: Right to Trial by an Independent Tribunal
(a) At the option of the accused, a criminal prosecution of a security-related crime should be tried by a jury where that institution exists or else by judges who are genuinely independent. The trial of persons accused of security-related crimes by judges without security of tenure constitutes a prima facie violation of the right to be tried by an independent tribunal.
(b) In no case may a civilian be tried for a security-related crime by a military court or tribunal.
(c) In no case may a civilian or member of the military be tried by an ad hoc or specially constituted national court or tribunal.
Principle 23: Prior Censorship
Expression shall not be subject to prior censorship in the interest of protecting national security, except in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the country under the conditions stated in Principle 3.
Principle 24: Disproportionate Punishments
A person, media outlet, political or other organization may not be subject to such sanctions, restraints or penalties for a security-related crime involving freedom of expression or information that are disproportionate to the seriousness of the actual crime.
Nothing in these Principles may be interpreted as restricting or limiting any human rights or freedoms recognized in international, regional or national law or standards.