Not surprisingly, support for the ICCPR approach to freedom of expression is not unanimous.
Rejection of a universal human rights standard
Some government have never accepted that the ICCPR represents a universal standard that is worth aspiring to. The map above shows the status of the treaty as of September 2014. Countries coloured white (including Malaysia, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia and Singapore) have taken no action with regard to the ICCPR.
Saudi Arabia is part of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which has its own “Declaration of Human Rights in Islam“. Take a look at its Article 22 to see its version of freedom of expression.
In-principle support, but…
China, coloured light blue, signed the treaty in 1998 – to indicate its political support for the treaty and its agreement to engage with the process. But it is not a “party” to the treaty – it has not yet ratified it. Being a party to the treaty means agreeing to be bound by it. China is the only permanent member of the UN Security Council that has not joined the ICCPR. International NGO Human Rights Watch and activists within China have been urging the government to take this final step.
Ratification with reservations
Many states that have joined the ICCPR are not 100% in agreement with it. When becoming a party to the treaty, a state is allowed to indicate its reservations. Usually, these have to do with technical problems aligning their treaty obligations with their own domestic laws. For example, the Government of Malta said that Article 19 should not stop it from banning civil servants from taking part in political debates during working hours, which is a restriction found in its Constitution.
Visit the UN’s Treaty Collection site for the full list of signatories and parties to the ICCPR. If you click on the country names, you will see their reservations if any, as well as their opinions about other countries’ reservations.
The special case of the United States
The United States believes its own First Amendment protects free speech better than the ICCPR’s Article 19. Therefore, it has declared that it will follow its own Constitution instead when deciding what restrictions and limitations are permitted. To find out more about the US position, visit the US First Amendment link.