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26 February 2024

CIGAD hosts launch of 'Freedom of Speech in International Law'

A new book titled ‘Freedom of Speech in International Law’, launched at King’s in January, seeks to examine the extent of threats to freedom of speech and to propose solutions.

Three women and one man are each holding the same book in front of a banner.

Freedom of speech is a universal right in Article 19 of the International Covenant of Human Rights. However, it is frequently violated and increasingly under threat. Threats to free speech are multi-faceted, with technology, national security and autocratic governance among other factors eroding this fundamental human right.  

‘Freedom of Speech in International Law is a new book published by Oxford University Press and edited by Amal Clooney, an international law and human rights barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, and Lord David Neuberger KC, former UK Supreme Court President. Professor Philippa Webb and Dr Rosana Garciandia co-authored chapters in the book.  

The book aims to ‘to clarify what the right to freedom of expression means under international law’ by exploring four types of speech: political speech, false speech, hate speech and speech related to national security and ‘provides recommendations about how international standards should be interpreted, updated and enforced’. These recommendations, endorsed by leading international organisations, human rights scholars and experts, aim to inform the actions of governments and social media platforms seeking to regulate content. 

To celebrate its launch, the Centre for International Governance and Dispute Resolution (CIGAD), hosted an expert panel on 18 January.  

Baroness Helena Kennedy KC, an international law barrister at Doughty Street Chambers and Labour member of the House of Lords, chaired the panel, which included high-profile and eminent experts including Lord David Neuberger KC, Amal Clooney, Professor Philippa Webb, Dario Milo, Partner at Webber Wenzel and Alice Gardoll, Chief of Staff for the Office of Amal Clooney.  

Lord Neuberger’s opening remarks addressed global threats to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, commenting that it was, in particular, the restriction of freedom of political expression that inspired the book.

In her remarks, Amal Clooney recognised that journalists today face unprecedented threats and highlighted the results of her research showing that states are increasingly criminalizing speech in violation of international law. She explained that she and her co-editor, the former chief judge at the UK Supreme Court, ‘wrote this book not out of despair, but out of hope that codifying the rights protected in international law can help those targeted by rogue regimes or overzealous prosecutors.’  

Professor Webb’s speech highlighted that instead of providing protection for speech, many jurisdictions provide extra punishment, especially when criticism of states is involved. She shared numerous examples of countries penalising free speech with draconian penalties and on the basis of vague laws. Professor Webb set out several of the 15 recommendations that the book makes to protect political speech.

The other panellists, Dario Milo, who also contributed to the chapter co-authored by Professor Philippa Webb and Dr Rosana  Garciandia, and Alice Gardoll, reflected upon anti-SLAPP legislation and the need for social media companies to regulate speech on their platforms in compliance with international law.  

Lord Neuberger delivered the closing remarks, making a plea to remain attentive to the threats to freedom of speech, stating that ‘the price of liberty is eternal vigilance’.  

The book is now available in bookshops and can be ordered online.   

In this story

Professor Philippa Webb, Professor of Public International Law

Professor of Public International Law

Dr Rosana Garciandia

Lecturer in Public International Law