Freedom of speech is an essential right that allows individuals and journalists to express their opinions without government interference. In the United States, this freedom is protected by the First Amendment. Internationally, it is protected by the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.
The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, more commonly referred to as the ICCPR, is a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations on December 19, 1966. The treaty is part of the International Bill of Rights which promotes equality among all human beings. There are currently 173 parties in the ICCPR, including the United States of America. The treaty’s primary purpose is to protect the rights, freedoms, and dignity of each individual.
Included in this treaty is Article 19. Comparable to the First Amendment, the article protects the individual’s right to have and express their own opinions. Article 19 stipulates that the government is not to interfere with any expression of these opinions barring that they do not infringe upon the rights and reputations of others or pose a threat to national security. Like the First Amendment, Article 19 serves as a means of protecting freedom of expression.
However, Article 19 includes the two above mentioned situations in which expression is not protected, whereas, the First Amendment simply states that Congress will not limit freedom of speech or of the press. Of course, there are certain situations in which the courts have decided that speech is not protected under the First Amendment. The phrase most commonly used to describe unprotected speech is speech that presents “a clear and present danger.” However, while Article 19 expressly states its exceptions, the exclusions made in the First Amendment were largely created by legal precedent.
It is also notable that the United States expressed several reservations to the ICCPR treaty. One of these concerned a possible limitation of speech. Article 19 is followed by Article 20 which prohibits war propaganda and hateful or incitement speech. This was concerning to the United States whose consent to the treaty was dependent on compliance to the reservations. The United States would only consent if Article 20 would not authorize any action that would limit speech protected by the United States Constitution.
Americans are taught the value of freedom of speech from infancy; it is an essential component to the American persona. Most children can explain the First Amendment long before they become aware of the other amendments. It is a freedom on which the American public has conferred the highest value. It is a freedom which ensures, not only the right of the individual to express themselves freely, but also the rights of journalists to express themselves without government interference.
However, many are not aware of the international treaties put in place to protect this freedom, among others. ICCPR was put into place to protect the rights and dignities of each individual. One of these rights is the freedom of expression protected under Article 19. Similar to, but less well known than the First Amendment, Article 19 provides an American standard of freedom of speech on an international level.