These Principles are part of ARTICLE 19’s International Standards Series, an ongoing effort to elaborate in greater detail the implications of freedom of expression in different thematic areas. Their development was motivated by a desire to encourage greater global consensus about the importance of the right to freedom of expression for all people in the society, in particular groups who are marginalised and discriminated against.

These Principles are the result of a process of study, analysis and consultation, drawing on extensive experience and work by experts and organisations in many countries around the world. The process of developing these Principles included a meeting of experts on freedom of expression and persons with disabilities in London on 18 – 19 June 2014.

Following this meeting and further consultations and internal discussions, ARTICLE 19 drafted the Consultative Version of the Principles that are available for comments and discussion in a period of October – December 2016. Civil society organisations, activists, policy makers, academics, media and all other stakeholders are invited to feedback on the draft and to contribute to the final version of the Principles.

ARTICLE 19 appreciates the input and support of all individuals and organisations that wish contribute to the development of these Principles. Please comment directly on the website or on the document (pdf), or you can email your comments to us at legal@article19.org.

The Principles were developed as a part of the Civic Space Initiative financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation, Sida. Sida does not necessarily share the opinions here within expressed. ARTICLE 19 bears the sole responsibility for the content of the document.


According to recent estimates, there are more than 1 billion people in the world (14% of the world’s population) living with a disability. Reaching an accurate figure of individuals living with disabilities is problematic, mainly due to the differences that exist in the various methods of census and statistics collection. Nonetheless, it is estimated that a high percentage of persons with disabilities are living in developing (low income) countries; while in developed countries, it is predicted that the number of persons living with disabilities will increase with the ageing of the population. Furthermore, statistics also show that approximately one in five people with disabilities are born with their disability, with most acquiring one during their working lives. This renders people with disabilities the world’s largest minority.

Efforts to improve the protection of the human rights of persons with disabilities and to increase access and opportunities in society have been underway for decades; and countries have made advances in this area with varied results. At the international level, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), in force since May 2008, has been welcomed by many as a defining international treaty which recognises the human rights of persons with disabilities. The sustainable development goals (SDGs) and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, agreed by UN Member States in September 2015, include seven targets which explicitly refer to persons with disabilities.

Despite these advancements, it is widely documented that persons with disabilities virtually everywhere face social stigma and exclusion, discrimination, and various forms of abuse. They face serious barriers to inclusion and acceptance in society both physically and attitudinally, as well as legally and economically. The correlation between disability and poverty has also been widely recognised. For example, the 2011 WHO report highlighted the fact that significant progress on meeting the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) required more action and attention to addressing the health, education, employment and other needs of persons with disabilities.

It has also been recognised that freedom of expression and information – a fundamental human right – is central to the successful implementation of states’ obligations to protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities. The right to freedom of expression lies at the heart of human rights and democratic principles and is critical to the enjoyment of their other human rights, in particular the rights to privacy, association, right to political participation, right to education, right to health, and other civil and political and economic, social and cultural rights.

Despite this recognition, there has not yet been any comprehensive elaboration of what specific measures and steps must be taken by states and other duty bearers to ensure that persons with disabilities can fully realise their right to freedom of expression and information. Regrettably, this issue has been largely absent in the standard setting of the Human Rights Committee (including in the General Comment No. 34: Freedom of expression and opinion) and has mainly been ignored by the mainstream freedom of expression and media community. The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD Committee) is yet to address this issue in all its complexity; although in General Comment No. 2 (2014): Accessibility, the CRPD Committee highlighted the close relationship between the right to accessibility and other rights protected by CRPD, in particular the rights to freedom of expression and information. Furthermore, Comment No. 2 outlined the set of requirements for states and other entities to ensure that persons with disabilities can live independently and participate wholly in society, including through access to information and communication technologies.

ARTICLE 19 believes that there is a need to fill this gap at a level of principles. While recognising our limited expertise and limited activities in the area, we hope that organisations working with persons with disabilities and freedom of expression and media community can join forces to explore the problems and challenges in this respect. We also find that it is important for the two communities to work together in order to influence and support initiatives at both an international and regional level, in order to advance protection, to ensure that gaps in protection are properly addressed and the highest possible standards are adopted.

Read the full background paper here