In August 2017, Arterial Network rolled out the first regional “Artwatch Africa Response” training workshops for East African and West African lawyers, in collaboration with the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA). Oludayo Fagbemi (IHRDA) led the workshops that aim to improve the legal and judicial protection of and support for artists across Africa. Oludayo holds an LLB in Law from the Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria and a Masters in Public International Law from the University College London. He is a member of the Nigerian Bar, has worked in private law practice and worked with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights (INTERIGHTS).
In an age where artists rights to create and exercise their freedom of expression are increasingly under threat, Arterial Network (through its Artwatch Africa project) has committed itself to developing a network of law professionals who are able to respond timeously and effectively to urgent cases of repression, particularly in situations where artists are threatened with violence and/ or intimidation by the authorities. The IHRDA and other partners are critical allies in pursuit of this goal that will hold African nations accountable to an international standard of artists rights as essential human rights. This month, we spoke to Oludayo about his commitment to the defense of human rights, about freedom of expression and the results of the first two regional workshops.
ARTERIAL NETWORK: Could you tell our readers about how the partnership between IHRDA and Arterial Network came about? How did IHRDA come to work on artists’ rights issues and freedom of expression?
Oludayo Fagbemi: IHRDA was introduced to Arterial Network by a mutual partner organisation. In the past, we had not worked on any cases involving artists rights, but as a pan-African organisation that works to promote all human rights in Africa, we were excited by the idea of defending artists rights using the wide range of human rights instruments and mechanisms that we have available to us on the continent.
In August 2017, you led two training workshops for lawyers in Nairobi and Lagos. What main principles were explored? What issues were raised by lawyers themselves about difficulties they have experienced in these regions?
The workshops in Nairobi and Lagos were to expose local lawyers to the African human rights system and how it can be used to defend the rights of artists. Artists rights are human rights, and all humans deserve to enjoy the right to freedom of expression. With this in mind, we looked at the scope and the limits to the right to freedom of expression, and possible avenues to defend or protect that right when it is threatened or infringed upon.
Most of the lawyers who participated in the workshops were commercial or intellectual property lawyers who did not have prior exposure to basic human rights principles and did not know that Africa has a wide range of mechanisms created to protect human rights. I would say that was the basic challenge that I noticed with the participants.
In your opinion, what were the biggest highlights or successes to come from these workshops?
At the end of each of the workshops, the lawyers had a very good understanding of the scope and limits of freedom of expression, and were confident that they could better defend the rights of artists whose rights are being infringed on. We concluded each workshop with a mock court exercise and the lawyers were excellent in their application of the principles they had just learnt.
What does 'freedom of creative expression' mean to you and what justifiable limits are there to 'freedom of creative expression,' if any?
Freedom of creative expression is a subset of freedom of expression. The human rights instruments do not provide for a separate freedom of creative expression. Freedom of expression is not absolute, and can be limited by the State under certain conditions, although such limitations must be created by law. In other words, they must be for a legitimate purpose allowed by international human rights law. For example, limitations may occur as a result of state security measures, to protect the rights and freedoms of others, public health or public morality, but these limitations must be proportionate to the purpose for which they are imposed.
What upcoming projects do you have on your schedule for the remainder of 2017?
The IHRDA team and I are going to be very busy for the rest of this year. In October, we have important court dates at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court for two of our cases concerning sexual and gender based violence against women. We also have another important hearing in December before the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC). These are in addition to several capacity building workshops that we have scheduled to take place before the end of the year.
1 - Oludayo Fagbemi
2 - Diana Ramarohetra
3 & 4 - GoDown Arts Centre, Kenya
5 - Taiwo Olusola Johnson
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