Universal Standard on Defamation



Legitimate Grounds





Statement of Fact


Public Officials / Figures


Actual Malice  

Burden of Proof


Restrictions must be provided by law [1]

Sufficient precision: Law must not be overbroad [2]

Rights of others OR [3]

National security, public order, public health or morals [4]

Necessary for a legitimate purpose (see legitimate grounds) [5]

Only way to achieve protection


Restriction on expression should not be overbroad [7]

Least intrusive instrument amongst those which might achieve their protective function [8]

Proportionate to
interest to be protected [9]

Statement must not be an opinion that is not subject to verification [10]

Heightened value of uninhibited expression for public officials/figures [11]

Public figures are subject to criticisms and opposition [12]

Plaintiff must proof actual malice to go forward on actions concerning public figures [13]

Should avoid penalizing unlawful or untrue statements that have been published in error but without malice [14]

Plaintiff bears the burden of proof [15]

Truth [16]

Public interest of the subject matter [17]


General Comment 34, “Among the other articles that contain guarantees for freedom of opinion and, or expression, are articles 18, 17, 25 and 27. The freedoms of opinion and expression form a basis for the full enjoyment of a wide range of other human rights. For instance, freedom of expression is integral to the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of assembly and association;” “Defamation laws must be crafted with care to ensure that they . . . do not serve, in practice, to stifle freedom of expression.”
Restrictions must be provided by law.
Marques v. Angola, paragraph 6.8, “The Committee refers to its jurisprudence that any restriction on the right to freedom of expression must cumulatively meet the following conditions set out in paragraph 3 of article 19: it must be provided for by law, it must serve one of the aims enumerated in article 19, paragraph 3 (a) and (b), and it must be necessary to achieve one of these purposes.”


General Comment 34, paragraph 26, “a ‘law’, must be formulated with sufficient precision to enable an individual to regulate his or her conduct accordingly and it must be made public.”


Rights: The term rights includes human rights as recognized in the Covenant and, more generally, in international human rights law. It may be legitimate to restrict freedom of expression in the cases of articles 25 (pertaining the right to vote. See Communication No. 968, Jong-Cheol v. Republic of Korea, paragraph 8.3) and article 17 (arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, correspondence, attacks on honor and reputation) when the expression involves, for example, “intimidation or coercion” (an example for article 25 is given), but such restrictions “must be constructed with care” (on “intimidation and coercion” under article 25, see Communication No. 927/2000, Leonid Svetik v. Belarus). See also General Comment 34, paragraph 28.


National security: Legitimate ground to ban speech only if the speech conveys “a perceived threat to national security (violent overthrow of the constitutional order [a crime under Uzbek legislation]) and to the rights of others” See Communication N0. 1233, AK & AR v. Uzbekistan, paragraph 7.2. Treason laws and similar provisions relating to national security, such as official secrets and sedition laws, also included as a legitimate ground. See General Comment 34, paragraph 30.
Public order: It may be permissible to regulate speech-making in a particular place. For example, the Human Rights Committee has said that a legitimate ground to ban speech could be when such speech is considered “threatening, unduly disruptive or otherwise likely to jeopardize public order.” See Communication No. 1157, Coleman v. Australia, paragraph 7.3. Restrictons to freedom of expression could also be permissible in contempt of court proceedings when the court needs to excersice its power to maitain orderly proceedings. In this aspect, “the Human Rights Committee notes that courts notably in Common Law jurisdictions have traditionally enjoyed authority to maintain order and dignity in court debates by the exercise of a summary power to impose penalties for ‘contempt of court.'” See Communication No. 1189/2003, Fernando v. Sri Lanka, paragraph 9.2. However, in one contempt of court case, the Human Rights Committee concluded that the state party had violated article 19 of the Covenant “as the sentence imposed upon the author was disproportionate to any legitimate aim under article 19, paragraph 3.” See Communication No. 1373/2005, Dissanayake v. Sri Lanka, paragraph 8.4. Also see also General Comment 34, paragraph 31. The Human Rights Committee has also found that laws of parliamentary privilege “can be seen as a legitimate goal of public order and an accreditation system [for journalists to acces and report on the parliament’s sessions ] can thus be a justified means of achievening this goal” but that “its operation and application must be shown as necessary and proportionate to the goal in question and not arbitrary.” Therefore, “a State party is thus entitled to limit access” to the parliament as long as “any restrictions imposed by the State partymust be compatible with the provisions of the Covenant.” See Gauthier v. Canada, Communication No. 633/95, paragraphs 13.4, 13.6.


Necessity/ Necessary for a legitimate purpose: See General Comment 34, paragraph 33. See communication No. 359, 385/89, Ballantyne , Davidson and McIntyre v. Canada, paragraph 11.4
See Kozlov v. Belarus


Necessity/Only way to achieve protection: See Communication No. 359, 385/89, Ballantyne, Davidson and McIntyre v. Canada, paragraph 11.4 and General Comment 34, paragraph 33.
Kozlov v. Belarus, “The Committee recalls in that respect that to meet the test of necessity any restriction on the right to freedom of expression which seeks to protect the reputation of others must be shown to be appropriate to achieve its protective function.”


Proportionality/Restriction on expression should not be overbroad: See General Comment 34, paragraph 34.


Proportionality/Appropiate to achieve protective function: See General comment No. 27, para. 14. Appropriate to achieve protective function There seems to be no further intepretation of this standard. He made me, merge these two See Kozlov v. Belarus


Proportionality/ Proportionate to the interest to be protected: “[t]he requirement of necessity implies an element of proportionality, in the sense that the scope of the restriction imposed on freedom of expression must be proportional to the value which the restriction serves to protect.” See Communication 1128/2002, Marques v. Angola, paragraph 6.8.

10  General Comment 34, “All [defamation] laws should not be applied with regard to the expression of opinions that are not, of their nature, subject to verification.”
11   Bodrozic v. Serbia & Montenegro, “The Committee observes, moreover, that in circumstances of public debate in a democratic society, especially in the media, concerning figures in the political domain, the value placed by the Covenant upon uninhibited expression is particularly high.” 

Aduayom et al. v Togo, “[T]he freedoms of information and of expression are cornerstones in any free and democratic society. It is the essence of such societies that its citizens must be allowed to inform themselves about alternatives to the political system/parties in power, and that they may criticise or openly and publicly evaluate their Governments without fear of interference or punishment”.

12  Marques v. Angola, “a public figure . . . is subject to criticism and opposition.”*
13   Great Britain & Nortern Ireland Concluding Observations, “The State party should re-examine its technical doctrines of libel law, and consider the utility of a so-called “public figure” exception, requiring proof by the plaintiff of actual malice in order to go forward on actions concerning reporting on public officials and prominent public figures.”
14   General Comment 34, “At least with regard to comments about public figures, consideration should be given to avoiding penalising or otherwise rendering unlawful untrue statements that have been published in error but without malice.”
15  UN Human Rights Committee opinion on libel laws in the United Kingdom: “The State party should re-examine its technical doctrines of libel law, and consider the utility of a so-called ‘public figure’ exception, requiring proof by the plaintiff of actual malice in order to go forward on actions concerning reporting on public officials and prominent public figures, as well as limiting the requirement that defendants reimburse a plaintiff’s lawyers fees and costs regardless of scale, including Conditional Fee Agreements and so-called ‘success fees’, especially insofar as these may have forced defendant publications to settle without airing valid defences. The ability to resolve cases through enhanced pleading requirements (e.g., requiring a plaintiff to make some preliminary showing of falsity and absence of ordinary journalistic standards) might also be considered. (2008) UN doc CCPR/C/GBR/CO/6.
16  General Comment 34, “All such laws should include the defence of truth.”
17  General Comment 34, “a public interest in the subject matter of the criticism should be recognised as a defence.”

Kozlov v. Belarus, “public interest in the subject matter of a criticism is a factor to be taken into account when considering allegations of defamation.”