Freedom of Expression Around the World Is Focus of New Initiative at Columbia

March 5, 2014Bookmark and Share

Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger, a noted First Amendment scholar, has established the Columbia Global Freedom of Expression and Information Project, a new initiative joining international experts and activists with the University’s faculty and students to survey, document and strengthen free expression. He has named Agnès Callamard, a distinguished human rights advocate who was director of the organization ARTICLE 19, as executive director of the Project.

“Looking around the world today and seeing the pervasiveness of censorship in so many forms and societies, none of us should be under any illusions about the challenges we face in establishing international norms for a truly free press,” said Bollinger. “Doing so requires that we both understand the facts on the ground and succeed in creating a global framework for protecting speech and expression. These are steps that have become inseparable from progress on human rights and continued worldwide economic growth.”

In its first phase, the Project will survey some 30 countries to determine how freedom of speech and information are handled by justice systems, establishing a foundation to appreciate the differences that exist and the possibilities for finding common ground. Experts from around the world will critically review exemplary cases, engage in comparative analysis, and document national, regional and global trends.

The Columbia Global Freedom of Expression and Information Project will work closely with other University initiatives, such as Columbia Global Centers, the Committee on Global Thought, as well as faculty experts across the University’s schools, institutes and centers engaged in these issues. It will provide legal professionals, scholars and activists with a publicly accessible database of comparative jurisprudential information, quantitative and qualitative analysis of global trends on freedom of expression, interactive tools and social media to support arguments for the defense of freedom of expression based on progressive norms and evidence-based policies.

“Joining together with Columbia and President Bollinger on this under-studied and critical set of issues is a great honor,” said Callamard. “The free flow of information — regardless of frontiers — is facing major normative, legal and policy challenges all over the world. Columbia will be the host of an international community of interest and common intent, working together on one of the 21st century’s fundamental issues: the development and promotion of a truly global information regime. Basing it here at Columbia, with its long traditions of intellectual rigor, interdisciplinary breadth, international scope and dedication to freedom of expression, is a unique opportunity.”

The Project will include a focus on the United States, where it will seek to stimulate discussions of free speech and free press in an environment shaped by global economic integration, global communications systems and global dynamics. It will also consider global standards for the protection of sources and the accessibility of government-held information.

For nine years, Callamard was executive director of ARTICLE 19, an international human rights organization that promotes and defends freedom of expression and access to information globally. Under her leadership, the organization earned recognition for its innovative thinking on policy issues of national security, equality and development. She also founded and led the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership, known as HAP International, the first self-regulatory body for humanitarian agencies at the international level. Previously, she served as Chef de Cabinet for the Secretary General of Amnesty International and led its policy work and research on women’s human rights issues. 

Callamard has advised multilateral organizations and governments around the world and has led human rights investigations in more than 30 countries. She has published broadly in the field of human rights, women’s rights, refugee movements and accountability. She holds a PhD in political science from the New School for Social Research.

“We are fortunate to have Agnès join us at Columbia,” said Bollinger. “Her human rights and freedom of expression work is widely recognized among leaders in this field, and she has distinguished herself as both a scholar and tenacious advocate. I have no doubt that her intellect and focus will help to galvanize the engagement of faculty and students across the University — from law and international affairs to journalism and the arts and sciences.”

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